Guest blog post as featured in AgedCareOnline.com.au.

Australians are ranked among the highest social media users in the world. In light of this, it’s surprising to learn that only a tiny percentage of Aussie hospitals are taking full advantage of the online space to communicate with their patients and stakeholders. Compared to hospitals in Western European countries, where the use of online channels has grown significantly over the past 2-3 years, we are really lagging behind. Specifically, hospitals in the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Norway have experienced a big spike in using Twitter to communicate to their communities.

Take a look at this article via Sprout Social that contains an infographic that illustrates the rise of health social media communication in the Western European part of the globe.

So exactly how many Australian hospitals are online and using social media channels?

According to medical education blog Life In The Fast Lane, hardly any.

Here’s a quick overview of how many Australian hospitals have an online presence:

  • 13% of Australian hospitals had a Twitter account [of these, 45% are private hospitals, 3% public]
  • 11% of hospitals had a Facebook page [38% private,  3% public]
  • 10% of hospitals had a YouTube channel [30% private, 3% public]

Hospitals are missing out on an entire avenue of communication with key community members. Social media’s purpose is to keep people connected through the sharing of information and insights. Hospitals can derive great benefits from this free and universal communication avenue, and not just in a marketing sense.

Below are a few examples of how hospitals and health providers can take advantage of social media to communicate with internal and external audiences:

  • Twitter can be used to share real-time hospital clinical data and research to improve transparency and engage the community in important conversation around findings.
  • Using Facebook as an intranet, workers within a hospital can communicate and relate with each other, helping strengthen the organisation’s culture.
  • Fostering relationships with current and future patients are key to a hospital’s success. Twitter can be used to build relationships by engaging in authentic discourse with patients, providing hospitals with tangible access to feedback and insights into the patient experience.
  • Twitter can be used as a resource.  It’s an easy way to cite and discover journals, articles and other media contributed by health professionals around the world. Also a great way to bookmark and save links to these articles.
  • Both Twitter and Facebook can also be used to increase awareness of the organisation, disseminate job opportunities, and recognise new fundraising opportunities.

Here’s an excellent example of what St. Dominic’s hospital in the US has achieved with a YouTube channel, using it to position the hospital as a trusted resource – offering advice and sharing success stories using video.

Another example of technology being readily available, but not utilised is the use of technology in the way hospitals store patient records and information.  In the US top clinics have completed process improvement programs which incorporate mobile tablets (ie: iPads) into everyday work practice. To be fair there have been iPad trials in Victoria, but we are yet to see the results of these.

Just picture how much time could be saved with a mobile technology solution that links to the one central database. And imagine the health and wellbeing benefits of a universal system?

In my enthusiasm for all things tech and online, I have digressed from the original topic of this article; that our hospitals lag behind online and just aren’t using social media. It’s not even that they’re not using it enough – they’re just not using it at all.

In order to join the rest of the developed world, Australian healthcare professionals and care providers need to change tack and get online.

Ellis Jones knows health communications, social media and research. If you work at a hospital that needs to get online, get in touch to find out how we can help.

image credit: José Goulão