Social media policies in healthcare

pharma-social-mediaThe topic of creating organizational social media policies got me thinking about the importance of spelling out ground rules. I recently had job interviews with two different hospitals and it was interesting to learn how far apart they were in terms of adopting social media. I was surprised to learn that one of the hospitals did not support the use of social media. Simply put they didn’t want to navigate the mind field of potential privacy issues and negative feedback. And their physicians are much too busy to be on social media.
Years ago, hospitals were nervous about utilizing social media and concerns over privacy and risk were in conflict with social media culture and values. As more and more patients turned to the web for information, healthcare sought out opportunities to establish a presence and share their storytelling to promote awareness and education.
Today patients and physicians are using social media both officially and unofficially to communicate effectively, to research medical information, seek out communities and offer opinions. Children’s Hospitals, like CHEO in Ottawa (see CHEO policy – and Sick Kids in Toronto are among the most advanced in terms of using social media and have rolled out internal and external social media policies.
An example shared by the Ontario Hospital Association ( to promote their 2013 Social Media in Health Care Conference highlights the use of social media to promote awareness and communication. Hélène Campbell a young woman from Ottawa was diagnosed in September 2011 with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and, was placed on the transplant list. She shared her story by documenting her own need for new lungs via social media. She not only raised awareness for organ donations but she also attracted support from celebrities including Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres. She became a digital and traditional media sensation. Happily, Hélène received her new lungs and today continues to promote awareness through social media. Cancer patient Karina Xavier has battled bone cancer since 2011. The 15 year-old YouTube make-up artist aficionado and blogger was paid a surprise visit in hospital by Supermodel Gisele Bundchen who was touched by her online video.
The Mayo clinic promotes a number of blogs and communities and has demonstrated how healthcare can successfully adopt social media – and they share their social media policy #SocialAtMayo Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Guidelines ( The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical practice and research group based in Rochester, Minnesota was an early adopter of social media. Today they have established a Center for Social Media and recently held their first Social Media Grand Rounds.
I’m not expecting every hospital will achieve the level of social media success that the Mayo Clinic has but it would be nice to see all hospitals adopt a social media policy and plan that supports awareness and education. As PR practitioners it’s important to ensure the framework we build includes policies and procedures that are easily understood by all users both internally and externally – and we engage our staff in their creation and rollout to safeguard their success.


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