Physicians’ presence on social media can boost hospital reputation
The business saying, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it,” does not necessarily hold true in medicine, according to James Sims III.
“In medicine, a reputation is built over a hundred years and may be impossible to lose,” Sims, the social media manager for Northwestern Medicine, said during a presentation at the Women in Medicine Summit.
Surprisingly, social media plays an important role in building that reputation and extending a hospital’s already influential reach and reputation, Sims said.
In 2018, Sims and colleagues set out to conduct an in-depth analysis of the U.S. News & World Report voting methodology for hospital rankings. During the analysis, they determined that there are four categories involved when looking at how U.S. News & World Report ranking is organized — patient outcomes, safety, hospital structure and reputation.
“Often scores do not change very much,” Sims said. “The top four reputation hospitals have been at the top since the survey started back in 2014, and they would be the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Massachusetts General.”
According to Sims, these reputation leaders share two main characteristics innovation and their sharing imperative, meaning how they share knowledge, advancements and breakthroughs via emails, internal channels, externally promoted content and participation in conferences.
“One medium that appeared to have been gaining popularity over the years is the use of social media, specifically Twitter,” Sims said. “We had a hunch that physicians were highly engaged on this platform, and that their activity could positively affect the reputation of their health systems.”
According to Sims, they wanted to answer the question, “Is social media really important?” “Spoiler alert: It apparently is,” he said.
Sims and colleagues assessed several studies on hospital presence on social media and its potential effect on reputation scores. According to Sims, all of the studies had the same outcome a significant correlation between social media presence and hospital divisional rankings.
“To be clear, this is not causation. This is specifically correlation between the two variables,” Sim said.
To understand how health systems and physicians were using Twitter, Sims and colleagues audited cardiology, neurosurgery and urology service lines for accounts at Northwestern Medicine. According to Sims, they analyzed the type of content being shared, frequency of posting compared with other hospitals with the same specialty Twitter accounts and how the accounts were set up.
According to Sims, and audit of account followers found that many of the top or most influential followers were current physicians in faculty, and other followers included advocates, researchers, patients, philanthropists and media outlets. They further analyzed the accounts and found many Northwestern Medicine physicians were active users on Twitter, frequently engaging with their peers and sharing their service line account content.
With this information, Sims said Northwestern Medicine devised a plan to manage their top 15 clinical specialties — ranked by the U.S. News & World Report — to boost their overall reputation and encourage physicians to vote in the U.S. News & World Report's survey. The plan involved setting up additional Twitter accounts, having physicians already on Twitter encourage their peers to join and be active, creating brand consistency by securing proper Twitter handles and branded designs created by a graphics team, and developing a content-sharing strategy that focused on continued education, highlighting news and promoting the breakthroughs and innovation in care.
“There's a correlation between boosting hospital reputation and identifying physicians who are currently active on social [media] and leveraging their networks. This was hugely important for us in the beginning stages and really proves the benefits of having a social [media] presence, and providing physicians with support and resources helps them become better Twitter stewards,” Sims said. “This is something that isn't going to produce immediate results as far as how many followers or how much engagement, but over time, you'll see the fruits of your labor.”