May 22, 2015
1 min read

Social media tools offer opportunity to target health care consumers

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Facebook and Twitter are tools, not toys, with specific demographic penetrance and specific demographic targets, according to Farris K. Timimi, MD, medical director of social media at the Mayo Clinic.

Searching for health care information is the third most common use of the Internet, Timimi said in a presentation at the American Ophthalmological Society meeting. “I guarantee your patients Google you, their disease, their doctor, their diagnosis and your institution, which means that each one of those entities has a digital avatar online, whether filled or not.”

Farris K. Timimi

Fundamentally, social media are tools that allow people separated by time and space to work on a project together, allowing for a digital, virtual space for co-creation, he said. Furthermore, the media are designed to be archived and shared.

“That’s both the power and the risk of these tools,” he said. “They transfer the private to public, and monologue to frank dialogue.”

The challenge in health care is to connect the institution or entity’s capacity to engage with the increasing shift in consumer use of digital content, he said.

Despite the opportunities, health care entities are reluctant to embrace social tools, with fears of being sued, of not being paid for time online, of patient information compliance issues and of unprofessional online behavior.

“We sit on the sidelines and refuse to participate,” Timimi said, but by doing so, the industry misses the opportunity to be heard. “Silence has real implications.”

When a health care entity does incorporate social media as a tool, it is important to have rules in place at the outset.

“You have got to have guidelines,” he said. “You’ve got to have onboarding information for your employees, and you’ve got to have meaningful training. Pick the right tool. Pinterest has a much different demographic than Twitter or Facebook does.” - by Patricia Nale, ELS

Disclosure: Timimi reports no relevant financial disclosures.