The healthcare industry's reticence to join the social media fray is increasingly problematic as the public takes to social media to address healthcare issues.
Hospitals mainly worried about compliance issues are missing opportunities to address patients and their families who have turned to social channels to seek resolution to problems or, sometimes, just to vent.
The number of complaints about hospitals posted to Yelp is rising based on my completely unscientific review of the site, yet there are precious few hospital representatives stepping in to answer these complaints. One of the hospitals whose Yelp pages I check regularly (they're a client, after all) begins, "Overall review of this place." Even though it's a generally positive review, the hospital's communication manager responds, "I want to thank you for your feedback. I will be sure to share it with our staff." Which she will, since she knows the feedback needs to be cycled back into the hospital's business processes.
With reviews that are critical of the hospital, the communications manager always invites the reviewer to contact her. Some do, often leading to positive resolutions. Others don't, but at least anyone checking the reviews can see that the hospital makes a genuine effort to make sure the patient winds up satisfied with his or her experience.
But reviews on sites like Yelp are old school. As social media becomes more common a tool for the average consumer, patients are getting more sophisticated in how they use it. A college student in Washington D.C. us using a petition on Change.org to try to pressure Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachesetts to reverse its denial of rehabilitation coverage for his father. A similar petition was launched after a Children's hospital of Philadelphia denied a transplant to a child because (according to a blog post from the child's mother) the girl is developmentally disabled.
The pressure brought to bear on Children's Hospital has led the organization to reconsider the kidney transplant.
While Children's Hospital and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts may both have made their decisions based on existing standards and practices, the individuals involved react to the denials emotionally. Once, there was little they could do about it other than complain to friends and family. Now they can draw considerable awareness to the issue. Those who sign the petitions are also reacting emotionally, feeling anger or outrage.
By engaging effectively and authentically in social channels, hospitals and other healthcare organizations can be part of the human discussion, blunting the perception that they are no more than soulless, profit-focused businesses. You can play a part in how the community perceives you or you can let distraught patients paint that picture for you.
If you work in a healthcare facility, do you routinely check your Yelp listing, and if so, how do you respond to criticism?