Social Media in Healthcare: Benefits and Opportunities

Hands holding up signs with social media terms: friends, news, tweet, follow, like, share, chat and search.

The advent of social media has created new ways for people to connect with one another, institutions and healthcare professionals. Even though the social media revolution has brought about many benefits to individuals and businesses, it’s also rife with the potential for abuse, misuse and privacy concerns. This is particularly true for healthcare, an industry for which social media holds great promise but also certain risks.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped to accelerate the use of social media in health care. For example, according to a November 2020 article published in the Journal of Internal General Medicine, physicians have created hundreds of public and private groups on Facebook to communicate and share information; one COVID-19 Facebook group for U.S. physicians had more than 150,000 members. But even before the pandemic, healthcare providers had begun to integrate social media into their operations in a host of different ways.

Students who pursue a Healthcare Master of Business Administration degree can become leaders in their field, and it’s important for them to know how social media fits into the healthcare industry.

The Use of Social Media in Healthcare

For proof that medicine has entered the digital age, look no further than the use of social media in healthcare. The integration of social media into numerous aspects of healthcare has helped healthcare organizations modernize their approach to a wide range of functions.

A literature review of numerous studies regarding healthcare providers’ use of social media was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2021. That review identified a number of ways in which healthcare professionals have incorporated social media into their work. For example, they are using social media to:

  • Attract and hire employees. Recruitment in healthcare is taking advantage of social media to appeal to prospective employees and assess applicants for residencies.
  • Conduct research. Researchers in healthcare are using social media to build research communities and enhance the sharing of research information.
  • Market their practices. Healthcare professionals are using social media to promote and market their practices to new patients.
  • Promote health. Healthcare organizations are using social media to promote messages about public health and disseminate health information.
  • Healthcare professionals and medical students are using social media to network and communicate with their peers.
  • Study medicine. Both new trainees and experienced healthcare professionals are using social media to further their education in healthcare.
  • Treat patients via telemedicine. Some healthcare organizations have used social media to provide telemedicine to patients, expanding their reach and improving the convenience of obtaining healthcare for some patients.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Social Media?

Using social media in healthcare opens the door to both promising opportunities and certain risks. In blending social media into their operations, it’s important for healthcare organizations to ask, what are the benefits and drawbacks of using social media?

1. An Impact on Privacy

Administrators, doctors and other healthcare professionals must abide by strict federal laws that guard patients’ privacy by limiting how, when and where hospitals share patient information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has strict provisions that dictate boundaries for protecting a patient’s personal information. As a result, healthcare professionals need to be very careful about posting anything on any social media platform related to their patients, whether directly or indirectly.

2. A Need for Guidance

In addition to professional groups offering advice on social media usage, hospitals and other healthcare businesses need to have their own social media policies. Set out specific rules to ensure the ethical use of social media by your employees and contractors. The guidelines need to establish clear lines for protecting the privacy and security of patients. It’s a good idea to offer training sessions so everyone understands the rules.

Some healthcare staff may want to interact with patients using social media to provide them with encouragement or friendly reminders. By setting up rules, healthcare administrators show their employees how to interact with their patients without creating privacy problems or other concerns.

3. An Opportunity for Patients to Praise Your Work

Social media in healthcare isn’t just about the risks. It also offers potential rewards. Some patients who have positive experiences will share their stories using social media platforms. Doing so builds trust in your brand, a goal for every brand manager. Trust is especially important in healthcare, where patients’ trust in healthcare providers’ technology, staff and infrastructure can mean the difference between life and death.

4. A Way to Recruit

Recruiting high-caliber employees is an important priority for every healthcare organization. Having quality staff translates to positive patient experiences and better outcomes for those who are sick and injured. Savvy hospital administrators know they can use social media to attract applicants. LinkedIn allows you to target messages to people with specific job titles. Consider setting up a Twitter handle just for sharing information about job openings at your facilities. Facebook is also a useful tool for alerting people to staff vacancies.

A Plan to Handle Responsibilities

Healthcare administrators need to cultivate internal social media managers. These staff members already understand how your organization works, and with proper training, can handle writing and making posts. This helps ensure an active presence on social media rather than having an account that sits dormant.

While there are potential pitfalls for healthcare organizations using social media, this technology also offers immense opportunities for enhanced communication with the public, patients, staff, stakeholders and job seekers.

A Career Leading Healthcare in the Digital Age

The presence of social media in healthcare is here to stay, and individuals who have a good understanding of healthcare in the digital age will be positioned to become leaders in the industry. If you have an interest in leading the charge in healthcare, explore George Washington University’s online Healthcare Master of Business Administration program. With the expertise the program provides, you could be on your way to a rewarding career in healthcare. Embark on that career today.

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Journal of Internal General Medicine, “Are Social Media Groups the Novel Physician Lounges to Combat COVID Times?”

Journal of Medical Internet Research, “Social Media and Health Care, Part I: Literature Review of Social Media Use by Health Care Providers”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January–March 2020”