Only Connect: Social Media and the Radiology Practice

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This article is the first in a three-part series. Thomas GreesonFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Reddit: The list of social-media platforms grows longer every day. These technologies offer tools that facilitate interactive, reciprocal dialogues among people, groups, businesses, and institutions. Social-media users number in the billions worldwide. They come together to build relationships, share information, and join communities of interest. It’s a connected world. Should a radiology practice plug into it? What’s the value of developing a social-media presence, and what are the possible risks? “Radiology practices should view using social media as an opportunity to make themselves stronger and more valuable as health-care partners,” according to health-care lawyer and social-media user Thomas Greeson, JD, a partner with Reed Smith LLP who is on Twitter as @tgreeson. “Used correctly, social-media tools can enhance a practice’s reputation and brand with patients, referring physicians, and hospitals,” Greeson says. “If radiologists want to fight against the stereotype and become more to hospitals than faceless, nameless, replaceable people sitting in front of workstations in dark rooms, then they would do well to consider social media.” Emerging Need Business realities in health care have changed. Patients have more control over their health-care dollars, and they are more concerned about costs. They are more likely to ask a referring physician for multiple options and then to research those options online. Hospitals also are looking for radiology partnerships that provide the best value. Developing a social-media presence might help a radiology practice to increase its value and to build stronger relationships with both of these key audiences. Kim Longeteig of Ali’i Marketing and Design specializes in working with radiology groups. She says, “Using social media is an important way to put a face on radiology, build trust with patients, and tell a positive story about how radiology improves people’s lives.” Greeson notes, “In an era when some insurance providers may try to steer patients away from your services, having a good relationship gives patients a reason to stand by you. Social media can help radiologists build a positive profile and brand in their community. The stronger your community networks are, then the stronger your relationships are with hospitals and local physicians. Your community reputation is an asset that will influence how hospitals perceive you during contract negotiations.” Parameters for Social-media Use Social media are valuable and effective tools, yet many health-care providers remain wary of using them. Longeteig says that three major factors hold back radiology groups: first, lack of time and resources to maintain a social-media presence; second, fears about bad comments or reviews; and third, legal concerns about privacy and confidentiality. In general, Greeson reassures radiology practices that if they first develop a strong corporate social-media policy, then they can participate in social media “without running into legal and ethical problems,” he says. Before jumping into social media, it is imperative to understand how these tools operate and to develop a plan for how they will integrate into ongoing marketing/communications efforts. Ramsey Mohsen, social director of Digital Evolution Group, a full-service digital consultancy, says, “Using social media is an efficient way to have conversations that you couldn’t otherwise. You can’t really have a conversation on your website. Social media can expand your digital reach.” Mohsen reports that leveraging social media should support, but not replace, the marketing efforts of a business. “Using social media extends and facilitates, but does not eliminate, your website, email newsletter, or other outreach efforts,” he says. “Just because new media are created, the old ones don’t become less valuable.” Mohsen also warns social-media users to manage their expectations and define their objectives clearly for developing a social-media presence. “Using social media provides a free tool, and it’s very useful,” he says, “but it’s not a golden ticket. It has its role and limitations, just as any other tool would.” The Social Part When it comes to creating a social-media presence, a radiology practice should first develop a strategy to manage the risks and reap the benefits—primarily, telling its story, better, to two key audiences: patients and referrers. Learning the basics of using social-media platforms is not very burdensome; some, however, find mastering the communications aspect of social media—the social part—to be more daunting. Social-media communications do operate differently from the communications styles that many physicians are used to using. As a channel, social media represent the essence of democratic, interactive, two-way communication, while traditional health-care communications have worked using a less fluid model. Dawn Ellison, MD, is an emergency-department physician, a member of the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare, a health-care–communications coach, and principal of Influencing Healthcare, LLC. “Historically, physician–patient communications have been pretty one way: The physician tells the patient what to do to get better,” Ellison says. “The future (and it’s starting to happen now) has a physician and a patient, working as a team, with two-way communication.” Radiologists, though, usually have little experience in communicating with patients. Some of them might not often interact with referring physicians, either. Before connecting with these audiences through social media, what do radiologists need to know? Effective Outreach Ellison explains what patients generally need to hear from physicians. “The patient’s definition of wellness matters, and what the patient wants matters,” she says. “The physician might want to get a certain blood value down, but the patient really wants the energy to play with his or her grandchildren.” Health-care providers also need to present medical evidence and education in a way that honors patients’ values, that clearly explains the potential consequences of various choices, and that emphasizes the benefits of early detection and treatment. “Another big barrier to effective communication is using medical terminology without explaining it thoroughly,” Ellison says. “Remember, you are talking to the public, not to other medical personnel.” What do providers need to hear when communicating with each other? Ellison says that respect, open-mindedness, collegial dialogue, and a sense of collaboration are key. Remember that other professionals need access to radiology’s specialized knowledge in order to provide the best possible patient care. “Caring about patients and wanting to do the right thing: Those are always the basis for good health-care communication,” Ellison says. Greeson points out another side of the professional audience. “Think about who belongs to that category,” he says. “It includes members of the hospital board, the hospital CEO, and the CFO—I’ll bet their organization has a Facebook presence. If you use your social media to help support theirs, then you are not only building community; you are providing additional value.” Understanding your audiences and finding them online can be two very different things. Mohsen says that there are several audience-monitoring and listening tools that can search for major keywords in various online conversations. There are even simpler methods: “Go to any social-media site and type in words such as MRI or mammography,’ he says, “or health. You might be surprised at what you find, at where these conversations are happening, and at who is involved.” Maril Hazlett, PhD, is a contributing writer for ImagingBiz.com.