I’m writing this post in the airport in Chicago on my way back from a weekend spent being overwhelmed with information at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Yes, there I was, amid the techies, entrepreneurs, film fanatics and video gamers. Why was I there? Well, social media has firmly planted itself and become engrained in daily lives–it is now a way of life. The fact that SXSW has expanded to include a health and education track is proof positive.
The healthcare industry must face the fact that social media is here to stay. One glaring message from SXSW: It’s now imperative that hospitals–and EVERY industry–take it seriously.
I attended many sessions over the weekend, with some focused on marketing and branding by well-known experts in the social media community. At one session, the Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman (@LivestrongCEO) plainly said the only way to mobilize a community and get people involved in a cause is through social media.
Another session was presented by Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician known as @SeattleMamaDoc on Twitter; Michael Golinkoff, the EVP of Clinical Specialty Programs for Aetna; and Jamie Heywood, the co-founder of PatientsLikeMe. Their overall message is the healthcare industry must change. No surprise there, of course. They also highlighted that one area to address is improving access, and providers can do that by allowing eVisits–patient consults with a doctor through Twitter or email–and having insurers pay for that “visit” at a reduced rate.
If that’s not enough to convince you that social media isn’t just a fad, this might: The last session I attended was a panel discussion on whether “citizen journalists” are real journalists. Citizen journalists are those individuals who are reporting from the scene of big news events, from Occupy Wall Street to the uprisings in Egypt and Syria. The panel included Jennifer Preston (@NYT_JenPreston), staff writer/social media reporter for the New York Times; Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin), social media editor for The Associated Press; Tim Pool (@TimCast) a “citizen journalist” from Occupy Wall Street who became a go-to source during the demonstration by major media outlets; and Jigar Mehta (@JigarMehta), a documentary filmmaker and Co-Founder of 18 Days In Egypt/GroupStream, a platform for these citizen journalists to share their information.
What was the big message? Major media outlets like the NYT and the AP are now turning to these citizen journalists who are reporting events through social media. Of course their reports must be verified, but they truly have become legitimate media sources.
As I sat and listened, a thought occurred to me. Hospitals are a conservative industry, with about 20 percent across the country using social media. In a crisis, how long does it take for a hospital to get a statement out? Given the world of social media, and the rapid flow of information, it is now imperative to start feeding out information during a crisis through these channels. Even if the hospital isn’t, there are others in the community who are becoming citizen journalists and feeding information to the media. Maybe it will be verified, maybe not. But that means your hospital’s message–which is carefully crafted and sent through review channels–is going to be lost unless you are providing regular, factual, credible updates through social media. The media is not going to wait for that statement.
So, given this type of information, what will your hospital do during your next crisis?
This post was written for and originally appeared on http://www.hospitalimpact.org