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Social Media Takes a More Prominent Role in Care

May 30, 2012
by John DeGaspari
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St. Louis Children’s Hospital emphasizes social media tools to drive referrals


The use of social media to engage patients and their caregivers has become a top priority at St. Louis (Mo.) Children’s Hospital, which, according to marketing manager Kay Franks, has helped the organization track its referrals and increased the active participation of patients’ parents and caregivers.
The hospital’s social media initiatives make it an exception to the rule in light of the results of a survey, released last month by the Health Research Institute of PwC, which found that social media activity by hospitals (and health insurers and pharmaceutical companies) are miniscule compared to activity on community sites. While eight in 10 healthcare organizations tracked by HRI during a one-week period had a presence on various social media sites, community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites. Among the report’s findings: a third of consumers use social media for health-related matters, and one in three use it to seek information about other patients’ experience with their disease. (For more information about the survey’s findings, read Gabe Perna’s recent blog post.)
These happen to be among the reasons that St. Louis Children’s Hospital has stepped up its social media presence [under the guidance of tSunela, a St. Louis-based digital marketing firm specializing in social media and search engine optimization (SEO)]. The hospital recently launched a redesigned website that is far more integrated with social media, Franks says. “Our redesign is much more user friendly, it’s action oriented, and involves taxonomy, so we are able to link more closely our health content with our service lines,” she says. She adds that the hospital relies heavily on SEO, which includes a balance of clinical terms as well as layman terms.
Franks says social media has become very important to the hospital as a way to reach out to consumers. “My demographic is parents and predominantly female between the ages of 25 and 45, and this is predominantly who is using social media,” she says. “We need to be where our customers are.” She adds that she has been receiving requests from physicians to establish a social media presence.
According to Franks, St. Louis Children’s has been busily establishing a social media presence, especially during the last three years, through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and ICyou, a health video sharing site. Videos have become an important part of its media mix, she says. It uses videos to promote preventative health and wellness. Facebook has been very effective in encouraging patient interactions regarding specific conditions and surgical procedures, she says.
“Statistics show that the main reason that anyone goes on the Internet is to find health information,” Franks says. “Assuming that it’s something we treat, we want it to be there in that search engine and we want them to read our information, which we believe is trusted information,” she says.
Franks adds that the hospital has also sought to extend its social media reach to mobile devices. In January 2010 it created a mobile app of Kid Care, a symptom-based application, which can be downloaded from its website. The mobile app, which is marketed primarily in the Missouri-Illinois area, has had 25,000 downloads since it was launched in January 2010. (The hospital also runs a call center, staffed by a live pediatric nurse.)
Franks, who notes that referrals are reported on a regular basis, “conservatively” estimates that the hospital’s website generated $8.2 million in revenue last year.
“We are pleased with our presence in social media,” Franks says, adding that the hospital’s senior leadership has been supportive of its social media initiatives. In her view, social media is a way for parents of patients to interact with themselves, as well as a way for the hospital to stay connected with its patients. “Our goal is primarily to drive referrals and to make sure we are providing good health information,” she says. Social media will play a more important part in reaching that goal in the future.

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