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Hospitals Are All Over Facebook, But What Are They Posting About?


In a new JMIR study, a pair of PhDs set out to categorize how some of the country's top hospitals were using the social media platform.

UPMC Mercy photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Crazypaco.

Its annoyances and privacy scares aside, Facebook has attained such ubiquity in the business world that it’s surprising when an institution doesn’t maintain an official presence on the social media platform. Hospitals are no exception, although their mission is slightly more nuanced than that of an average business: While they certainly have reason to raise brand awareness, they also play a slightly more important role in the community than a good boutique or coffee shop.

Two researchers, Nima Kordzadeh, PhD, of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Diana K. Young, PhD, of Trinity University, wanted to analyze how top hospitals are handling both the opportunities and obligations that Facebook can present. “Little is known about the content these organizations actually share when using social media channels,” they wrote in a study published this month in Journal of Medical Internet Research.

>>READ: Even Without PHI, Facebook Generates A Lot of Useful Health Data

The duo first selected hospitals from US News and World Report’s 2014 health system rankings, eliminating duplicates or single-field-specific institutions. They were left with 54 hospitals, although there was a wide chasm between Facebook popularity, ranging from a handful of likes up to the million-plus that Cleveland Clinic had. The dropoff between the top 3 (which also included Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic) was well over 100,000 likes (as of 2014).

Meanwhile, they determined that some of the identified hospitals with a scant Facebook following may not have been “following a systematic social media strategy.” To ensure they weren’t throwing off their results, they decided to focus on the 17 hospitals they found with between 5,000 and 65,000.

They were still left with a number of nationally recognized institutions, and they used posts from Yale-New Haven Hospital, National Jewish Health, Rush University Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Mount Sinai Medical Center to form their study’s basis. They used Facebook posts from those 5 hospitals—159 total over a 2-month period—to form a baseline sorting methodology.

From there, they looked at 1,500 more posts made by the 17 hospitals over a 3-month period to extract the main themes hospitals were expressing on Facebook. Those ranged from less than 15 posts per month (Stanford Hospital) to over 70 (Thomas Jefferson University Hospital).

After developing a series of 20 theme codes, like organizational news or organ donation promotion. Kordzadeh and Young independently assessed the posts, tagging them with those codes, and then convened to review. They tossed out a few hundred posts were they couldn’t reach “coding consensus” and we left with about 1,200 to analyze.

There were 3 main theme groups that emerged: announcing, sharing, and recognizing. Overwhelmingly, sharing was the most common: More than 35% of hospital Facebook posts were devoted to sharing health information, with another 9% devoted to sharing patient success “feel-good” stories. All categories comprising less than 1% of posts were dropped from the final results.

Looking at the hospitals individually, all but 2 most frequently made posts about health information: NewYork-Presbyterian devoted the largest share of its Facebook content to announcing or reporting events, while Rush University Medical Center devoted its largest share to recognizing special days (like the abundant disease or profession awareness days).

The findings indicate that hospitals see Facebook as a multi-faceted tool: On one hand, it can be a means of raising brand awareness by recognizing their own employees’ accomplishments and spreading patient success stories. On the other, it can be a means of disseminating relevant health information to promote community wellness and healthy behaviors. Very few posts had to do with employment recruiting—less than 0.3%.

“These results can be used as a benchmark for the health care institutions that want to establish a social media presence to communicate with the public audience and for the smaller clinics and hospitals that want to further expand and improve their activities on social media websites,” the pair wrote. And that doesn’t sound like a bad idea—as is often the case in healthcare, if Brigham and Women’s, UPMC, and Rush (among others) are doing it, it might be worth emulating.

Related Coverage:

Med Students Are Using Facebook Groups in a Big Way

Veterans Are Active on Facebook. But Not When They Need Help.

There Are Now 1 Million Medical Professionals Using Doximity

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