Social media has completely upended the way most of us consume, shop, research and communicate. For many, it’s the first – and sometimes only – source of news and information about anything and everything.
That puts pressure on businesses in every industry to connect and communicate with their customers on social media — especially healthcare organizations.
Yet maintaining a balance between the public world of social media and the private world of patient care is tricky. Doctors and other healthcare providers need social media practices that engage and inform patients — and also protect their privacy.
Although healthcare marketers are wise to follow the lead of corporations in other industries by entering the social media arena, the stakes are higher. Restrictions posed by Private Health Information (PHI) and HIPAA put providers and health systems at risk, as mistakes can lead to serious consequences — from a damaged reputation to a license revocation.
Here are some common missteps healthcare organizations make with social customer care:
1. Unintentionally Disclosing PHI
Unauthorized disclosure of patient information is a HIPAA violation. Healthcare providers should never share any statements, content, information, photos or images that in any way betray patient confidentiality.
But what happens when a patient initiates the conversation and shares their information on a hospital’s social media page? Say a patient’s post includes a photo of a hospital visit or details about their medical diagnosis. What should you do?
Neglecting to respond would be a mistake — it’s important to engage with patients to create trust and loyalty. But if the hospital’s marketing staff acknowledges the comment, they risk violating privacy laws, depending on what they say in their response.
Your responses to reviews or social media comments – whether positive or negative – must comply with HIPAA privacy regulations. To reduce risk, make sure your providers and staff have access to templates with appropriate language that comply with regulations.
2. Arguing Online
If a negative comments surfaces, providers may be tempted to argue with the reviewer. But getting defensive is never a good idea.
Online arguments, no matter who’s right or who’s wrong, are especially dangerous for healthcare organizations. With each new comment, the risk of patient alienation and privacy violation escalates.
When a patient airs a concern or complaint on social media, respond immediately in a HIPAA-compliant manner – but offline. Invite the patient to contact you directly via phone, and offer to discuss the issue privately with the patient.
3. Ignoring or Deleting Negative Comments
Although it seems counterintuitive, an occasional bad comment adds credibility to the positive ones, and leaving them for everyone to see builds trust with your audience. If all of your comments are positive, consumers may suspect they’re fake or planted.
What’s more, if you ignore negative comments, you run the risk of letting others shape your reputation. Engaging in social conversations is critical for influencing how people perceive your organization and the quality of care it provides.
Responding quickly and appropriately to negative comments presents opportunities for organizations to shine. By approaching each comment with sensitivity and understanding, a provider demonstrates its commitment to patient care and satisfaction.
If a patient complains about a provider on a social page, don’t ignore it and don’t delete it (unless it includes profanity or slander).
4. Engaging Sporadically
Scared off by patient privacy concerns or unsure of the benefits of a robust social media presence, some healthcare organizations may only share content occasionally or inconsistently. But ongoing and frequent engagement helps build trust with patients — while also driving website traffic and improving SEO.
By acting as a trusted source of relevant healthcare information, you’re demonstrating your commitment to your patients and the community and helping to improve the overall patient experience.
5. Using the Wrong Social Media Management Tool
Not all social media management solutions are equal. Many tools lack central repositories for approved content, increasing the chances of posted content violating regulations or brand policies. These tools don't cater to the needs of large, multi-location healthcare organizations, and approval workflows can be complex leading to miscommunication and additional risk of non-compliance.
Such tools often lack analytics and reporting necessary to understand and act on patient feedback from various other sources, such as online reviews and patient satisfaction surveys, and combine it with social listening data for a complete picture of patient sentiment. To cover all the bases, many health systems try implementing numerous point solutions, which leads to higher costs and management headaches.
Transparency and Patient Privacy — A Balancing Act
Patients will talk about you online, and being part of the conversation is critical to maintaining brand integrity and minimizing risk. But without a 360-degree view into all sources of feedback— and a social platform optimized for multi-site social management — you put your brand and your organization at risk — and could be missing out on the opportunities afforded by a well executed social media strategy.
Find out how Reputation.com's Social Media Suite can help you take control of your online reputation.