Smaller Hospitals Use Facebook More Effectively, Study Finds

Facebook use by hospitals is increasing and smaller hospitals are spending more time marketing their services on the site, according to research by a University of Missouri professor.

Hospitals "like" Facebook and smaller hospitals are spending more time on the social media site, according to research by a University of Missouri professor.

Dr. Ricky C. Leung, assistant professor of health management at the University of Missouri, presented his research on Facebook use in hospitals at the Medicine 2.0 conference on Sept. 15 at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The study is called "A Two-Part Study of Social Media for Health Care Organizations."

For his report on social media in health organizations, Leung, along with Jing Li of consulting firm ZS Associates, examined Facebook use by 120 hospitals listed by the nonprofit Missouri Hospital Association.

Leung interviewed social media developers, hospital administrators and Facebook users, and found that smaller hospitals used Facebook more effectively than larger ones.

Despite larger hospitals having more resources to build a stronger Facebook page, they have more channels to attract patients outside of Facebook, Leung told eWEEK.

Smaller hospitals may spend more time developing a Facebook page, according to Leung.

"Larger hospitals have larger channels and more ways to interact with patients, and are not as committed as smaller hospitals," said Leung.

"Smaller hospitals are more committed once they decide to use Facebook," he added.

Smaller hospitals also use Facebook more effectively than larger ones, according to the August 2011 study "The Economics of Social Computing: Some Preliminary Findings on Healthcare Organizations" published in the Journal of Computational Science. Leung coauthored that study with Dr. Kalyan S. Pasupathy, assistant professor of health management and informatics at the University of Missouri.

Marketing purposes and reputation-building were important ways that hospitals used Facebook, according to Leung. They may advertise their expertise in various surgical procedures, he added.

In addition, specific patient groups may turn to new social media sites for help with specific health conditions rather than use mainstream sites such as Facebook, according to Leung.

Hospitals also attract more subscribers to their Facebook pages when they add positive news, such as birth announcements, said Leung.

Facebook may not be the appropriate social media destination for "less socially desirable news," the Journal of Computational Science report suggested.

Less than 150 of about 6,000 hospitals in the United States rely on Google and Facebook for marketing, reported Rob Grant, executive vice president of eVariant, a Simsbury, Conn.-based hospital consulting firm, according to Kaiser Health News.

Between February 2011 and September 2011, hospital-sponsored Facebook pages jumped 8 percentage points, from 39 percent to 47 percent, according to Leung's study.

Leung and Li used "likers" to determine the number of subscribers and amount of discussions on a hospital's Facebook page. They found that the average number of "likers" for hospital-sponsored Facebook pages increased from 181 in February 2011 to 1,321 in September 2011.

Meanwhile, the number of discussion pages increased from 26 in February 2011 to 53 in September 2011.

Hospital size played a role in the number of "likers" a hospital's Facebook page would get, according to Leung.

With Facebook use by hospital workers inevitable, Leung proposes giving workers a set time to use the service during a workday.

"Because hospitals see employees using Facebook more and more, they try to legitimize the use of it by implementing social media time," said Leung.

This social media period would provide hospital administrators a better way to manage employees' time, he suggested. They would use social media time to check email and create social media polls, said Leung.

The Missouri study predicted that hospitals will need to adopt clear guidelines on how employees can use social media. In its white paper "Should Healthcare Organizations Use Social Media?" IT integrator and cloud service provider CSC also recommended that health care organizations formulate clear strategies on use of social media.

With concerns about privacy, hospitals need to be cautious about how they use Facebook.

"This is an area of concern, and hospital administrators are doing things to try to limit how employees use social media," said Leung.

Health care providers use Facebook for marketing, education and recruiting new patients, Caitlin Y. Lorincz, research analyst for CSC's Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, told eWEEK in April.