Why Hospitals Need to Embrace Digital and Social to Enhance Patient Engagement

Recently, I injured my arm during a soccer match and had to have surgery. My experience with the hospital was mixed. Is it just me or do you too feel that patient engagement could still be a higher priority on many healthcare providers’ agenda?

While it was nice to only fill out my personal information once in the digital healthcare passport used by the surgery center, I was surprised to find that I was unable to schedule any appointments online — I had to call in — and my MRI was put onto a DVD that I was asked to keep track of instead of being stored in the cloud, which would have made it more accessible for me, my insurance company, my hospital and physician. I was also disappointed that the clinic didn't follow up with me post-surgery as expected, and didn’t email information about post-op steps. I don’t know about all of you, but generally after the fog of the anesthesia and pain wears off, I have a tough time recalling specific directions and advice.

I also found places where my paperwork and post-op directions didn’t match, as my follow up appointment turned out to be on a different day and time than the paperwork stated. I would have been happy to say some really positive things about the staff and care provided immediately before and after the surgery, should they have provided a link to share my experience with people having gone through a similar procedure. Instead, it’s mainly my family and friends on Facebook who know about my surgery and that I am now unable to do anything without my wife’s help.

Just a few years ago, I wouldn't have expected anything. But the convenience I now experience by booking travel via mobile, making my banking transactions from my laptop or reading restaurant reviews before planning a night out has raised my expectations from all service providers, including my insurer, car mechanic and doctor.

Blame it on digital and the digital disruptors using innovative techniques to deliver new levels of customer delight.

Retail, travel, hospitality, manufacturing and financial services are successfully using the powerful potential of digital and are using social media to effectively communicate with consumers, build brand awareness and engage with employees and partners. 74 percent of consumers now rely on social media to inform purchasing decisions, 51 percent of mobile phone owners in the U.S. will access banking services on their mobile phones in 2016 and 41 percent of consumers say social media affects their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility.

Despite these compelling statistics, a lot of untapped potential remains in the healthcare market. A Dell Services and UBM Tech study cites 53 percent of healthcare providers as having some presence in social media, but these same providers admit that they’re not particularly active in engaging with their target audience. Only 17 percent of those surveyed felt their organization’s efforts were very effective, and 67 percent said they had room for improvement or were not doing a good job in this space.

Healthcare providers can no longer afford to delegate social or digital initiatives as a nice-to-have program in their marketing campaigns, but instead need to take action to integrate it in their patient engagement strategy and adopt customer engagement practices from other industries.

There are many opportunities where healthcare providers can use social media listening and insights services to create value. Today, social media command centers help the American Red Cross identify critical needs in disaster-affected areas, which in turn increases the organization’s ability to quickly connect people with the resources they need during a disaster — such as food, water, shelter or even emotional support. Other opportunities to create value include:

  • Patient communication: providers can send alerts and reminders to patients via social channels and communicate personalized advice to improve quality of care
  • Condition communities: caregivers and patients with similar conditions can connect via private and/or sponsored online social communities
  • Operational insights: providers can listen for trends in patient comments to address the most significant problems before they escalate
  • Patient sentiment: organizations can gather feedback via social channels on providers within a network and respond to influence patient sentiment and address systemic issues
  • Health trends: providers can listen in on social channels to identify emerging seasonal health issues and respond to patient needs

There are some healthcare providers who have begun to cast their nets into the larger digital spectrum and explore the potential of analytics, customer relationship management (CRM), mobile and other channels to increase patient understanding and engagement. An example of this is our Patient360 solution that brings together social, mobile and analytics to provide a 360 degree view of the patient to generate meaningful insights. With the help of Single Score, a component of Patient360, we helped a healthcare provider build more effective marketing initiatives that indicate the likelihood of patients to respond to certain marketing campaigns and join particular patient affinity groups, thus helping them provide a better and more enriched experience.

I will be discussing some of the success factors and challenges to enabling patient engagement in the digital age in an upcoming webinar, Patient Engagement: Strategies for Improving Outcomes and Experience While Lowering Costs, along with a senior analyst from the Everest Group and Stephanie Bartels, Patient Engagement Solutions Leader for Dell Services. I hope you can join us and hope my own provider will be listening in too!

About the Author: John DuBois