Health care systems seek social media buzz

December 1, 2015


Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise, Idaho, created a social media post this summer that was a hit on Facebook — two pictures of an adult patient identified by his first name, Daniel, with the story of his recovery after years of partial paralysis.

Dr. Christian Zimmerman determined that a vertebrae in Daniel's neck was pressing on his spinal cord. Zimmerman operated on Daniel at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in June. Within weeks, Daniel "had taken his first steady steps in seven years," and had "regained feeling in his left arm," according to the post.

Facebook tools that track posts showed it was shared 68 times, "liked" more than 1,000 times and reached more than 31,000 people. Members of the public wished Daniel well, congratulated the surgeon and asked questions about the procedure online.

Joshua Schlaich, media coordinator for Saint Alphonsus Health System, a member of Trinity Health, said, "A lot of times, social media is about developing a dialogue and accessible brand so that when potential patients do need our services, they remember who we are, and what we stand for."

Photos by Joshua Schlaich

Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise, Idaho, got an enthusiastic response to its Facebook post about a patient named Daniel, who regained much of his ability to walk following a surgery at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in June. Daniel's mother, Shirley, at left, encouraged her son to meet with the surgeon. A system spokesperson said Daniel hopes he won't need the cane as his recovery progresses.
Right tool for the right job
Communicators with Trinity Health, Ascension and CHRISTUS Health told Catholic Health World how they tailor their social media posts to specific goals and audiences. Systems use a variety of social media platforms, including posting on Facebook, crafting brief "tweets" for Twitter, uploading videos on YouTube, sharing pictures on Instagram, pinning visuals and content on Pinterest and sharing career-related news and information on LinkedIn. They write blogs for their websites or invite area bloggers to take part in hospital events in the hopes that they will spread the good word about a hospital's services to their readers.

Schlaich said Daniel's story included elements that led to social media success: It offered "personalized emotional value, intellectual value and story value." Readers connected with Daniel and empathized with his pain and frustration. The explanation of a neurological surgical procedure engaged readers' intellect. The story made readers cheer Daniel's "inspiring transformation after the procedure," Schlaich said.

The ways health system communicators use social media are as varied as the goals, whether advocating on a national health care issue, sharing health information to promote wellness, producing video profiles of physicians trying to build their practices or answering a patient's question about where to park for an upcoming appointment.

Communicators use tools for social listening that scan social media sites and track online comments and conversations about their hospitals and health services, to discern what patients want to know, to respond quickly to concerns or praise, and to safeguard the system's reputation.

Young adults are the most likely in the U.S. to use social media, with 90 percent of those ages 18 to 29 using a social media platform, according to an October report from Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan "fact tank." But health care systems say they're not just targeting the young, many of whom are in good health and don't always seek out routine care. That's because social media use is so widespread. Sixty-five percent of American adults use social networking sites, up from 7 percent a decade ago when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage.

Thought leaders
Nick Ragone, Ascension's chief communications officer and senior vice president, said one important use of social media is "to enhance thought leadership." So he said on issues Ascension advocates for, such as the continuation of the 340B drug pricing program — which requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs at reduced prices to nonprofit health care organizations with specific federal designations — executives at the corporate level and in regional ministries wrote op-ed pieces. Then, communicators worked together to "use social and digital media to amplify our collective voice," publicizing the articles as well as related advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and in their own markets.

Ragone said Ascension also encourages its communicators to not just tell their own hospital's stories, but to amplify the impact of the Ascension brand, by retweeting or otherwise sharing social media posts originating with other Ascension ministries.

He said Ascension communicators also check consumer review sites like Yelp!, paying attention to the positive comments and criticisms as part of its social listening efforts to see what patients are saying about the system and their experiences at its facilities and with clinicians.

Saint Thomas Health, based in Nashville, Tenn., circulates illustrated, inspirational Bible verses on Twitter as part of #MotivationalMonday. The illustration for this tweet comes from Proverbs 16:24.
Share of voice
Ragone said Ascension, working with a technology company, now generates a daily "social listening" report that electronically tracks social media posts and public conversations related to Ascension's ministries and determines whether the social media posts are perceived as positive, negative or neutral, so communicators can understand current sentiment about the system and its ministries.

"It tracks both sentiment as well as, in the aggregate, what your share of voice is on social media channels compared to your other main competitors," Ragone said. "It gives us an opportunity to review why feedback is the way it is." He said such reports don't fuel decisions at the system, but provide data and context. "It's a really good barometer," he said.

Brain storming
System and regional communications and marketing executives and staff said they strategize about social media on regular group calls.

Trinity Health formed its "Social Strategy Collaborative" in 2013, said Eve Pidgeon, Trinity Health's manager for communications and public relations. The collaborative includes about 50 social media strategists from the system office and regional ministries who communicate regularly about techniques for building relationships online, ways to increase influence in the social space and ways to impact business results. Members of the collaborative share what works for them and they regularly discuss topics chosen by the group, such as online reputation management or content curation strategies, she said.

Two-way conversations
Meghan Vital was recently hired to a new role, social media specialist for CHRISTUS Health in southeast Texas and Lake Charles, La. She says she is "in a relationship-building business," and calls herself a "social media reporter." She posts patient and physician stories, health care information and faith-based inspirations on behalf of CHRISTUS Health.

One aspect of communication that she's been working on is real-time responsiveness. So, for example, when a patient tweets about a long wait in an emergency room, Vital contacts the hospital staffer who can check in with the patient and address his or her issues. Her job involves letting the person know he or she has been heard; she moves the conversation off social media if it involves health care privacy issues and facilitates a resolution of any concerns.

CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System invites mothers with blogs to quarterly lunches, often at Children's Hospital of San Antonio. About eight to 12 "mommy bloggers" attend, said Melissa Krause, director of strategic marketing and communications for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System. Executives show them around a section of the hospital, or a physician answers their questions on topics like childhood allergies or proper nutrition. Many of the bloggers live tweet information from the talks and later write blog posts on their webpages. Some post videos on YouTube from a hospital tour.

Good information
Saint Thomas Health, a Nashville, Tenn.-based health care system, includes nine hospitals and is part of Ascension. It works with a marketing agency on its regional digital strategy. Angie Boyd-Chambers, Saint Thomas Health's managing director of marketing and communications, and Colton Mulligan, chief executive of the FoxFuel Creative agency, said they offer timely health care and wellness information and promote the expertise of Saint Thomas providers in the posts. For instance, they might post a question-and-answer video featuring a Saint Thomas Health physician talking about immunizations in the summer as parents and kids are shifting into back-to-school mode or an allergist talking about treatment options at the start of an allergy season.

They said the public also responds well to faith-based social media posts that reflect Saint Thomas' Catholic identity. For instance, the system sends out illustrated messages that include Bible verses with a twitter hashtag #MotivationalMonday. Boyd-Chambers hears from employees, too, who say the faith-based posts and tweets give them an inspirational boost as they go about their work.

Providence invests in tool measuring consumer sentiment

Providence Health & Services, through its venture capital fund Providence Ventures, has recently made a second investment in Binary Fountain, a company that has developed software to crawl social media platforms, public data sources, online patient ratings and reviews and other sites, mining public sentiment and combining that information with patient surveys to produce customized reports that reflect the day-to-day experiences of patients.

Orest Holubec, senior vice president for marketing and communication at Renton,Wash.-based Providence Health & Services, said the information leads to insights about what actions can be taken to improve the care experience. Providence is a not only an investor, but also a customer of Binary Fountain and uses the tool strategically throughout the five-state health system.

Binary Fountain, a for-profit company based in McLean, Va., is a provider of patient feedback management services and analytic software.

Binary Fountain is building "what it believes to be the largest scalable repository of opinion content in health care," according to a news release. It can be scaled up or down, so a customer does not have to sift through large amounts of data if they are trying to hone in on a particular piece of information.

Binary Fountain has 130 clients, including accountable care organizations, health care systems, hospitals, physician groups and companies that handle health care credentialing, according to Rachel Williams, Binary Fountain's vice president of marketing.

Working together with Binary Fountain, Providence recently created its own program to make patient ratings and comments available to other patients on physician profiles on their website. The program is being rolled out in the states Providence serves.

The rating comes from patient answers to a single question from Press Ganey, an independent survey provider that Providence uses to measure patient satisfaction. That question asks the respondent to rate the provider on a scale of one to ten. The collective answers are divided by two to get the provider's score on a five-point scale.

Such data can help people choose a doctor, and the frequent updates also help with search engine optimization to raise the visibility of a provider's profile page on the Internet, Williams explained.

"A tool like this really has value for both consumers and providers. We're seeing that more often patients want to find out information about physicians online. By making these rankings public and readily available, we're truly creating consumer-friendly health care," said Holubec.


Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.