Social Media ; Healthcare Enters the Matrix

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. These social media giants are now the new TV for our generation. Whether you take the blue pill or the red pill, you will probably still end up online. Endless status updates, selfies, cat videos and 140 character rants fill up our entire day. We are more than ever, hardwired into a global highway of information, education, entertainment and of course  photos of Kim Kardashians derrière.

Last year a poll of over 170,000 internet users found that the average person spent 1.7 hours a day on social media. In the younger demographic that number was even higher and for the first time they found that people were spending more time online than watching television. We are yet to discover the effects this will have on society in the long term, but its now very clear that it will have huge implications on the way we deliver healthcare.

The provision of care is something that has always been an internal tug of war between the altruism of providing a service for the ill, injured and the infirmed but also the fact that health is a business that must make money (or at least not lose it). These blurred lines often cause controversy over funding, equipment, job cuts and of course become the linch pin of many a political powerplay. But how does it affect the workers on the front line ?

Every hospital,  GP clinic, allied health service depends on one thing – People. They are at the core of our business. Just like any other business, those people can choose to a degree which services they wish to engage with. That’s good old democracy at play. It also means they have instant access to reviewing those services. This is where social media comes into its own. The instant feedback of the internet allows for the brutally honest reviews from patients, consumers and family members about their experience in healthcare settings across the world.

In short, its the TripAdvisor of the health world. If you or your family were planning a holiday overseas, most people would read the reviews of the hotels up for grabs. Towels were too scratchy, the concierge was rude and the beach was “too sandy”. Even though it may be a perfectly fine establishment, the experiences of some will greatly sway your decision to go there and your opinion of said hotel is set in stone.

The exact same goes for healthcare. Thousands of blogs, forums, groups, YouTube videos and tweets are updated instantly, everyday about the consumer experiences in health services across the globe. Even if your hospital is not engaged in social media, the public already are.

This is the reality that faces hospital settings the world over. Branding. As healthcare professionals, we are defined by the experiences of others. Our ‘brand’ is a direct representation of the staff that work in these healthcare settings and the care that they provide. This means that while staff on the floor are accountable and have responsibility to provide a service, It also highlights that healthcare administrations across the world over must embrace social media to protect their brand, its workers and the conditions they work within.

A study of American hospitals last year noted that 94 percent of the 3371 hospitals had a Facebook account and 50 percent had a Twitter handle. Using these tools to engage with the public, hospitals have been able to redefine the way in which they deliver care. Negative reviews can be examined, moderated and its information used to shape our practices, policies and procedures. Positive reviews can be used to showcase the hard work of doctors, nurses, physios, cleaners and other hospital staff that make up healthcare team.

While the advantages to social media engagement are many, the complexities make it a daunting process for hospital administrators. Like a mirror with a bright globe, it shines a light on us. It bares all to both our colleagues and the public. It exposes the limitations, lack of resources and sometimes overwhelming workloads that plague many a hospital.

Most importantly, it can connect us with each other. For those people who choose to be part of the noble professions that are medicine, nursing and allied health, it unifies us and our cause. It brings us back to the ultimate goal of patient centred care. It amplifies the voices of patients and staff alike.

Social Media in healthcare requires careful planning, dedicated resources and clever integration of services. But it’s payoff, if done right can be huge.  


The future of online health is just a hashtag away.

How does your hospital use social media ?

Matt Szabo

Paediatric Emergency Nurse and blogger.

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