Social Media for Providers: Wading In versus Jumping In

by Brad Tritle, Chair, HIMSS Personal Health IT Task Force Social Media Work Group

In the fall of 2011, the HIMSS Personal Health IT (PHIT) Task Force identified a problem:  We knew that most agreed with social media expert Dion Hinchcliffe’s estimation of 1 billion people on the planet using social media, but hospital social media expert Ed Bennett had identified only 21% of U.S. hospitals using it, and anecdotal evidence pointed to a positive impact from its use. There appeared to be a lot of fear and uncertainty about social media in healthcare. 

What could we do?

We formed the HIMSS Social Media Work Group as part of the PHIT Task Force and created a white paper that would explain social media and its various tools, and provide examples of its use across healthcare – by hospitals and doctors to public health agencies, health information exchanges, personal health record systems, telemedicine programs and other stakeholders. We also wanted to offer recommendaitons for both providers and consumers on how to get started. 

On the HIMSS site, we’ve made the white paper, and both the provider and consumer pieces (excerpts from the white paper), freely available to HIMSS members and non-members alike.  

In the white paper, we identified a variety of uses by providers, such as:

  • Informational and educational purposes for both internal and external audiences (the latter of which can also produce a positive return on investment through patient acquisition or increased patient loyalty);
  • Increasing patient compliance by combining social media tools with remote patient monitoring and game theory;
  • Communicating directly with patients, and exploring examples and recommendations of “friending” of patients;
  • Community and new patient outreach, from being an active and visible member of your community’s online presence to encouraging community members with yet-untreated conditions (e.g., substance abuse) to engage;
  • Staying educated and up to date.  Pediatric endocrinologist and health IT entrepreneur Dr. Jennifer Shine Dyer stated, “I’m much more well-read now that I’m on social media. Twitter reminds me of skimming journals for the things that interest us.”  Medical schools and hospitals are even using virtual worlds like Second Life to hold educational conferences; and
  • Disaster communications.  Hospitals that had already established social media channels were able to use them in times of emergency (e.g., shootings, floods) to communicate quickly and effectively with the public.  

The recommendations to providers, which we expand upon in the “Advice to Providers” excerpt, and the white paper, include the following:

  • Determine your goals for participating in social media channels.
  • Determine your social media channels to participate in.
  • Be yourself:  Meaning your social media conversations should reflect your personality, style and voice.
  • Attend training sessions or conferences where social media practices are discussed.
  • Know your boundaries when it comes to socially interacting with your patients on social media.

One of the best pieces of advice we heard was that of Lee Aase, Director of the Social Media Center, Mayo Clinic, who advises providers, “Take some baby steps and get into the shallow end of the pool as soon as possible. The great strategic ideas will probably come after you have some experience in the social media world.”

It is safe to wade in, and we’re also confident that as more providers use social media, additional questions and issues will arise.  For example, some providers have raised the issues of social media record retention and archiving, and the potential for telehealth via secure social networking sites.  

The HIMSS Social Media Work Group plans to continue its work in the coming year by addressing issues such as these, and continuing to highlight valuable new uses of social media in healthcare.  To do this, we would like your help:

Please take time to read the white paper, and then, we would love to hear from you on either of the following two questions: 

Option 1: What issues surrounding providers’ use of social media still need to be addressed?


Option 2:  What is the most valuable use of social media you’ve seen by a hospital or other provider? 


  1. White Paper:  Healthcare Friending Social Media:  What Is It, How Is It Used, and What Should I Do?
  2. Advice to Providers
  3. Advice to Consumers

Brad Tritle                                                                                                                                         Chair                                                                                                                                                              HIMSS Social Media Work Group                                                                                                 Principal, Health-e Republic                                                                                                          Director of Healthcare Business Development, Informative Graphics Corporation

This entry was posted in HIMSS News and Developments, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

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