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Healthcare and Social Media: The Benefits Win Out

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 3, 2009

OK, so there's been a lot of buzz—and a lot of articles—about hospitals that are using the micro-blogging site Twitter to describe surgeries in real time. There's also been a lot of debate over whether or not this is a good idea.

In a recent guest post on our MarketShare blog, Patrick Buckley reported about the negative reactions to tweeting surgeries in an online poll ("Milwaukee Not All A-Twitter Over Hospitals' Use Of Social Media.") The responses, overwhelmingly negative, annoyed me. "They should be focusing on the patient who's 'under the knife,'" one respondent wrote. "Distractions can cause problems. No one wants to hear 'oops' during surgery."

To borrow a line from the Saturday night live skit, "Really? With Seth and Amy:" Really?

Do people really think that surgeons would really put down their scalpels and skip over to the computer to post their 140-character updates? Do people really think that any healthcare organization would put Twitter before patient safety? Really?

Meanwhile, it doesn't matter that these readers were woefully uninformed (I blame the publication in part for that because the poll simply asked whether tweeted surgeries are a good idea without explaining how they work). The fact is that healthcare marketers can't just jump onto the Twitter bandwagon without having a solid communications plan and marketing strategy in place and also explaining clearly what they're doing.

They must balance the benefits of the effort—increased exposure, possible media coverage, an opportunity to educate patients who might be facing the same type of surgery—with the negatives—people who don't really understand social media throwing stones because they think it's clever to pooh-pooh anything new.

For a look into one tweeting hospital's experience, I interviewed Marc Battaglia, associate creative director at Demi & Cooper Advertising in Elgin, IL. The agency worked with Chicago's Sherman Health, a multi-hospital system, to tweet a laproscopic hysterectomy. Battaglia understands the risks and benefits of trying something new, but does a good job articulating why the benefits outweigh the negatives. Excerpts from our Q&A session follow:

Gienna Shaw: What was the thought process that led to Sherman Hospital tweeting the surgery?

Marc Battaglia: Twitter is an amazing platform if you look at it as we do. We see Twitter as a multi-device real-time messaging system. That means when you send out a message on Twitter it can be delivered in real-time to a user's gadget of choice, whether that be their desktop computer at work, their laptop in a coffee shop or their BlackBerry or other wireless device. Sharing information from an OR is not a new idea. Twitter is a perfect medium for distributing information from an OR because it allows time for messages to be worded correctly.

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