Among health care providers in the United States, social media is used for marketing, but globally, the tools are used more for care management and patient education, according to a new report by CSC, an IT integrator and cloud service provider.
In its white paper "Should Healthcare Organizations Use Social Media?" CSC takes a look at social media in health care and calls on health care organizations to adopt a more formal social media strategy.
CSC cited blogs, Facebook, online role-playing games, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube as examples of social media.
"I think the U.S. really has a lot to learn from its global peers in terms of using social media in health care," Caitlin Y. Lorincz, research analyst for CSC's Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, told eWEEK. "Right now, the focus is on social media for marketing, but there's a lot of things you can use social media for, such as monitoring patients and helping with care-management activities."
Pharmaceutical companies in particular are using social media sites for marketing purposes, despite a lack of guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on social media, said Lorincz.
Social media is used for communication, information sharing, clinical outcomes and improving innovation, said Lorincz.
Lorincz described a site called How Are You? which is a patient portal that also offers social media features and connects patients with providers and caregivers. The site is a partnership of U.K. National Health Service and Cambridge Healthcare. It allows patients to report how they're feeling and get feedback from doctors. "It helps caregivers proactively intervene and support patients from afar," said Lorincz.
Although Facebook and Twitter are used for general education and marketing, doctors are hesitant to connect with patients more casually on Facebook, according to Lorincz. They're concerned about going beyond the traditional doctor/patient relationship and also being prone to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations, she said.
Doctors need to avoid the urge to post about patients and bad days at the office, Jordan Battani, managing director of CSC's Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices Group, told eWEEK.
"It's one thing if it's your office and you whine on Facebook; it's another thing if you accidentally violate somebody's privacy," said Battani.
Even if they don't name the patient by name, readers of profiles can often figure out which patients are being discussed anonymously, she noted.
When providers post on Facebook, they can include a disclaimer noting that the information isn't intended for medical advice. "That's one thing providers can do to protect themselves," said Lorincz.
Despite social media being used primarily for marketing in U.S. health care, CSC highlights the social media work of The University of Iowa Children's hospital, which launched a Facebook application to improve medication adherence among teenage kidney transplant patients.
The Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic provides a way for patients to ask questions in its Online Health Community. Patients can also share their own health-related stories and post videos.
Social media is also a way to boost recruitment in health care, CSC reported. The firm recommends that health care organizations recruit social media managers to form a social media strategy.
Health care professionals are ramping up their use of social media to find employment, according to a March 29 report, called "Use of Social Media and Mobile by Healthcare Professionals" by recruitment firm AMN Healthcare.
"We are not surprised that health care professionals continue to adopt social media as a mainstream method for job searching," Susan Salka, AMN's president and CEO, said in a statement.
Of health care professionals surveyed by AMN, three out of four favored Facebook for job searches. Meanwhile, one in three respondents in 2011 mentioned social media as a factor in searching for a job, an increase from one in five in 2010.
Almost half of health care professionals use social media for networking, according to the AMN report.
In addition, health care professionals are increasingly using mobile job alerts to find employment. Of respondents who receive job alerts, 10 percent arranged an interview, 14 percent received a job offer and 8 percent found a job.