Are the obstacles to hospitals using Social Media really “myths?”

The Mayo Clinic and Ragan recently held their third annual Health Care Social Media summit. And among the presenters was popular writer and Social Media expert Shel Holtz, who debunked the myths that he says keep hospitals from utilizing Social Media.

I highly respect Mr. Holtz’s opinion, but I believe it is a stretch to call them myths. They are certainly obstacles hospitals can and should overcome. But they are legitimate obstacles.

Holtz specifically mentions the possible negative effect on workplace productivity, the risks of exposing the hospital’s networks to viruses and malware, HIPAA concerns and consuming the hospital’s bandwith. You can definitely overcome those obstacles by investing in sound IT infrastructure and putting clear guidelines in place and strictly enforcing them. Yes, hospitals can and do exaggerate the dangers of these potential pitfalls. But to call them myths is a similar exaggeration. Just ask any hospital that has been slapped with a fine and/or a lawsuit for revealing a patient’s identity on Social Media, however unintentionally.

Another reason hospitals, particularly religious ministry hospitals, block Social Media are ethical concerns. This was the case at one hospital I worked for, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic religious order. Such institutions are not only providing healthcare, they are also doing so in the context of their religion’s principles and values. While we may not agree with another religion’s beliefs, how can we expect a hospital supported by a religion to not adhere to that religion’s beliefs?

Are there other reasons you can think of for why more hospitals aren’t using Social Media? Would you consider those reasons to be myths?


8 Responses to Are the obstacles to hospitals using Social Media really “myths?”

  1. Hi Joshua,

    Ultimately I agree with Holtz, in that the potential upside outweighs the risks of engaging in social but you certainly have a point here. The term “myth” may be a bit misleading. HIPAA is not a myth, for example. Still, I think if healthcare systems take the time to formulate a social media policy for both internal and external purposes, they will find how beneficial it is to engage with patients and other industry pros in the social space.

    I’m curious how the use of social media platforms (e.g. FB, Twitter etc) violates the principles and values of a particular religious institution. I’m not questioning their decision on the matter, mind you. It’s just that I’ve never really heard tell of such a case before and it’s not an angle that gets looked at very often in the discussions I’ve taken part in online. Is it the content that is shared on those spaces?

    Thanks for the read,

    Jason Boies
    Radian6 Community Team

    • Joshua Brett says:

      Thank you for the comment. I too agree with Holtz’ larger point. I just respectfully object to him calling them “myths.” A myth is when an obstacle is completely made up and doesn’t really exist.

      As for that religious institution, I think it was the concern that people could use Facebook, Twitter, etc. to view content that definitely would be objectionable according to their ministry’s principles, and once someone is on Social Media, you can’t block them from seeing anything on there.

      • ahynes1 says:

        Luke 7:36-39

        36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
        39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

        I suspect that if Jesus were here today and working at a religious ministry hospital he would get reprimanded for friending a prostitute on Facebook.

  2. Krista says:

    I agree with your sentiment that “myth” may be a strong term. However, it’s common for any organization, not just hospitals, to hide behind “what if” scenarios if there is a fear of using social media. It’s still an unknown territory, and for many institutions, it’s difficult to explain the ROI of social media and its applicability to an integrated communications plan.

    From my perspective, I think hospitals can use social media effectively to create strong patient communities and to extend the patient-provider relationship beyond the clinical setting. That still requires that the hospital set forth policies for their employees and educate them about how to use these tools on behalf of the hospital. It places a lot of responsibility on the hospital administration’s part to do so, and that could be part of the reason why it’s easier to hide behind hypothetical scenarios and current law, rather than integrate their communications.

    • Joshua Brett says:

      Thank you for participating. You’re absolutely right that it is still difficult to explain the ROI of using Social Media unless it leads to a clear $$ benefit, because that is how many business leaders are trained to look at it. This is another obstacle that, while it can and should be overcome, can’t just be dismissed as a mere myth either.

  3. I’m wondering what would prevent a Catholic hospital from using social media. I ask as a Catholic who is actively engaged in/with social media for healthcare, churches, and other faith-based organizations. Also, in my experience, Sisters of Mercy are savvy about social media. Please help me understand the theological/canonical basis for your concerns.

    • Joshua Brett says:

      As I said above, I think it was ethical concerns about what people would see using Social Media platforms. Once someone is on Facebook, for example, they could read someone’s post supporting a political position (abortion rights, for example) that the Catholic church would obviously find objectionable but would have no way of blocking within Facebook itself. I disagree that this alone should bar a Catholic ministry hospital – or any religious ministry – from using Social Media. But if a religious ministry has those kinds of objections, and the ministry sponsors the hospital, how can we blame said hospital for balking at using Social Media? It’s not something that can be dismissed as a mere myth.

  4. Pingback: Are the obstacles to hospitals using Social Media really “myths?” | HealthSmart |

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