How Social Networking Can Help Chronic Care Practices

If you talk to healthcare marketers about social media for medical practices, you’ll get varying opinions on whether it’s a good idea. Some think social media isn’t worth the time for the average medical practice, and others think it’s an absolute necessity for all medical practices.

As for us at P3 Inbound, we fall somewhere in the middle. Social media can be beneficial to a practice, but only if a practice has the time to post and engage regularly. For some practices, it may not be worth the effort if other marketing methods are working well.

However, recent surveys suggest that there may be great opportunity to engage on social media if your practice specializes in the care of chronic conditions. This might include a practice specializing in treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, arthritis, diabetes, or chronic pain disorders. For practices like these, social media may provide a unique way to connect with your patients.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent findings about social media in chronic care, and how your chronic care practice can benefit from social media.

The Latest Stats on Social Networks in Healthcare

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst Insights Council recently conducted a patient engagement survey called “Social Networks to Improve Patient Health.” The goal of the survey was to learn more about social network use within healthcare organizations and which types of social media outreach have been the most effective.

Of the healthcare executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians surveyed, 85% said that chronic disease management was the most useful application of social media in healthcare delivery. Furthermore, those surveyed said that they most often use social media for disease-specific patient support groups. Why would this be effective? NEJM Catalyst says that peer support programs help patients connect with others like them, giving them a sense of connectedness and motivation that ultimately benefits their health.

Patient data seems to support this idea. A 2010 report by Pew Research Center found that one in five of internet users living with chronic disease had created online health content, including social posts, blogs, comments, online reviews, photos, online forums, and videos. These stats would seem to indicate that patients with chronic diseases are looking for this type of support online, giving medical practices a potential opportunity to step in and help.

Using Social Media to Connect with Chronic Care Patients

Is your chronic care practice interested in connecting with patients via social media? Here are some social media strategies that may be helpful to your patients.

1. Share Medically-Accurate Content

Because there is a wealth of misinformation on the internet, it is easy for patients to stumble upon information that is at best, inaccurate, and at worst, potentially harmful. Patients with chronic diseases will often connect online to share their experiences and knowledge about their disease, but it can be difficult to tell what information is accurate.

If your practice shares articles from trusted medical sources–or better yet, your own blog–you are providing patients with trustworthy information that they can pass on to their peers. These efforts can go a long way toward building trust with your practice, because it shows patients that you care about their well-being.

2. Set Up a Support Group for Your Patients

As NEJM Catalyst stated, peer support groups can be very beneficial for patients with chronic diseases. As their physician, you know your patients and their medical conditions very well, and can help them form connections with other patients. One way to do this would be to set up a private social group for patients. Upon invitation, your patients can connect with other patients in your practice going through similar issues. Patients with chronic diseases aren’t always able to get out of the house to go to in-person meetings, and social media-based support groups give your patients an opportunity to share their experiences without having to leave the house.

You may also want to create a list of online support groups outside of your practice. While support groups aren’t for everyone, this information could be very helpful for patients who want to connect with others in similar situations. Examples of social media support groups include Diabetes Support and Joint Health on Twitter, and Diabetes Daily and RA Chicks on Facebook.

3. Join In the Conversation

Social media allows your practice to connect with patients outside of your office. As we’ve said before, patients with chronic diseases often go online to seek guidance and support. Your practice can use social media to encourage and motivate patients, as well as provide trustworthy information.

It is important to stay aware of HIPAA guidelines when engaging in this kind of social media activity. Never discuss specific medical cases online, and direct patients to a secure means of contacting you if they ask for specific medical advice. However, you can contribute to the conversation online by providing general health tips, helping patients find accurate online information, and being a “cheerleader” for patients as they go through treatment.

Studies have shown that both patients and healthcare professionals see value in using social networking for chronic care. If you want to provide more support to your patients with chronic diseases, social media may be just what you are looking for.

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