August 29, 2011

ByAnna Kuberacka, Senior ResearchAnalyst, Customer Research, Jake Wengroff, GlobalDirector, Social Media Strategy and Research,and Nancy Fabozzi, Senior Industry Analyst, Healthcare and Life Sciences IT, Frost & Sullivan

Method Description

A fresh survey provided by Frost & Sullivan together with the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2) was targeting recent tendencies in using social media by U.S. healthcare institutions.

The fieldwork was performed during April and May of 2011 and was made of around 50 questions for full-time staff of healthcare providers who were one way or another using any social media. The goal of this research is to explore basic standards of personal, professional and institution-wide use of existing social media tools. The goal was to measure problems, goals, realistic expectations, and troubles; to evaluate policies, staff planning, and budget planning; and to figure out the existing role of social media among healthcare providers in general.

The participants include 63 employees from various branches within U.S. health-care providers:

  • public or private hospitals (n=42),
  • physician offices (n=10),
  • patient care settings (n=11).
  • IT-related employees are the majority of participants totaling 33 percent of all.
  • administration professionals (13%),
  • physicians (7%),
  • other Medical professionals (6%).

Social metrics:

  • 60% of participants work in institutions with over 500 employees;
  • the majority (59%) work for hospitals with more than 250 beds. — male and female are represented evenly (54% versus 46%, respectively);
  • 73% have over ten years of experience in the healthcare sector.

By social media we understand several internet-based tools that are utilised for creating and sharing content in real time with individual users and organisations.

These include but not limited to:

  • social networking (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.);
  • blogs (WordPress, TypePad;
  • microblogs (Twitter, etc);
  • video sharing sites (YouTube, etc);
  • photo sharing sites (Flickr, etc);
  • other collaborative and content sharing tools like wikis, chat rooms, pod-casts.

The Excerpts from Findings from The Evaluation

All of 63 respondents showed that they are currently extensively using social media in one way or another. Among the participants:

  • 85 percent admitted they were using social media for personal reasons,
  • 75 percent for professional purposes,
  • 68 percent utilize social media it for both personal and professional purposes.

Among respondents who claimed they were utilizing social media and its resources professionally, only one third said they were doing institution-related tasks during the usage. 74 percent of participants said that social-networking websites (such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) were the most efficient kind of social media used for professional purposes(Chart 1).

Around one third of participated organisations claimed they did not allow accessing social media for their staff, stating that security was the issue. Another concern with this restrictions was the impact of social media on the productivity of the staff. Those institutions that would allow access and usage of social media for its staff, however, in one way or another employ the policy of controlling such usage. The methods of control include software instruments, provided by IT-department that track the actual usage of certain websites where social media are hosted.

The majority of organisations utilize electronic communications policies in working conditions (Chart 2.)

53% of organisations have their staff members or third parties focusing specifically on social media and their applications (38% and 19%).

The brand advocacy and awareness as part of reasearch and development models are the chief reasons for keeping and using social media and tools they bring.

Social media are viewed as sufficient or surpassing existing expectations of an organazation (around 60% of respondents). (Chart 3)


Chart 1: Question: Please site the social media you are using for professional purposes in your organisation?

Use of Social Media for Professional Purposes (U.S.), 2011


Chart 2: Q — Does your organization utilize any kind of Electronic Communications policy?

Chart 2

Chart 3: Q — How using and utilizing social media and their instruments meet your organization’s expectations?

Chart 3


While looking at the results of the study, it is getting to be obvious that most of the employees from health care provider organizations extensively utilize social media. It is equally interesting that most of the respondents that took the survey admitted that they were able to freely use social media while doing their working tasks. Our findings reveal the utilization and appropriation of social media for various professional purposes of the scope previously unreported by similar studies; the latter have been consistently showing quite the opposite picture. Namely, that healthcare providers employees are not that versatile in using and utilizing social media and its tools.

However, we may conclude from the results of the study, that extensive use of social media with its instruments is still in its early stage and has room for more expansion and utilization as applied to healthcare professionals. What are the reasons for this outcome? One of the main ones is that privacy and security protocols are still being at their early phases of implementations within organizations. The information that pertains to a patient is obviously of a very sensitive nature and besides, is bound by legal restrictions. The development of proper handling of such information and use of it within the framework of social media is a very time-consuming affair. That privacy factor distinguishes healthcare field from other field in term of how they use the social media. There is no way healthcare professionals would share a patient’s information while debating at public social media platforms. There have been several legal actions taken toward medical professionals who have somehow abused that crucial unbending rule.

Another crucial reason for that are the low expectations of the impact of social media on the overall efficiency of healthcare provider performance. Around one-quarter of respondents admitted they do not know if social media met expectations or did not. Professionals outside of health-care would often quote sales, business growth, and customer services as the main reasons that drive the launch and maintenance of social media strategies. Cautions on privacy matters and restrictions within patient-to-provider communication have led many health-care provider organisations to conclude that overall, social media wouldn’t be able to impact actual patients care, while being in essence only a marketing instrument. Having noted that, we should also note that there is obviously a growing interest in social media potential in healthcare providers field.

For instance, the Veterans Affairs has announced a new policy which “highly encourages” physicians to use social media instruments such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, weblogs, forums to talk to patients and also to the members of general public, as part of the overall program of enhancing communications instruments for providing better care service for the patients.


While the Veterans Affairs and other big provider organisations are going forward in utilizing social media for engaging patients most of U.S. hospitals, physicians practices, and other patient-care establishments are still in their very cautious stage of utilizing social media with its empowering instruments. There is a growing realizations observed in the field that social media would greatly serve needs related to clinical practices, operational methods, research&development, competitive, and business development purposes.

If we are looking at single individuals, they are well-versed in uitilizing social media platforms and networking websites. It is estimated to be around 65 percent of individuals across business organisations in total. Healthcare industry is still lagging behind in that regard; however, the significant change in this attitude is observed while healthcare providers irrespective of their scope of operations start to realize the opportunities turning up with the use of social media and their application and tools.

A patient have had access to on-line digital resources for some time as this has been unavoidable in our age of digital technologies existing everywhere; social media are one of many available communications. The increasing popularity of devices like the iPhone, Android and various tablets have been significantly accelerating the access and ever-growing usage of these instruments of communications. Despite being associated with certain risks, social media would be growing across the society and that usage will more and more be included in the healthcare provider sphere. Social media with its tools have a number of significant benefits for health-care consumers, individual physicians, and provider organizations. Practicing of use for social
media include but not limited to collaborative researches (wiki), marketing&consumer feedbacks, and building a community of interests/patient support groups. These segments have great and potential to impact the patient experience in a very positive manner.

Overall, the presented survey shows that there are positive shifts as well as potential weaknesses that can be addressed in the field of social media. The prevailing tone of expectations is a positive one, while we strongly believe that tools and instruments that social media bring into the field of healthcare providers will seriously upgrade and enhance the quality of service. The IT providers, on their part, are starting to realize the potential of using their products in the healthcare field and are looking towards optimization and also inclusion of special issues required in order for the tools to be implemented on a fuller scope. Among such issues as we pointed out is privacy of a patient. To promote the social media forward, a strong opportunity is there for individuals employed by healthcare provider organizations: IT specialists, physicians, and managers, to show the return on investments of social net-working (such as patient outreach, access to data) to the organization that provides service, hoping that the organization will be able to utilize flexible programs that would make all stakeholders gain, both inside and outside the organization. The overall potential for bullish impact is seen as large and inevitable in the nearest future.