How to Use Social Media in Healthcare: A Guide for Health Professionals

Modern lives are going digital, and healthcare is no exception. Social networks have become an important health resource, and not just for millenials. Nearly 90 percent of older adults have used social media to seek and share health information.

It can be hard to know how to navigate the healthcare social media rules. Providers, agencies, and brands need to create informative, engaging social content. At the same time, you need to follow industry rules and regulations.

In this post, we look at the many benefits of using social media in healthcare. We also provide some tips on how to keep your social channels compliant and secure.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Benefits of social media in healthcare

Raise awareness and counter misinformation

“Health care systems must provide trusted information on immunization, flu virus, therapy, ebola, you name it.” So says Michael Yoder, the social media consultant for Spectrum Health. Social media is a key way to get that information to the public.

At the same time, in a world of “fake news,” there’s a lot of health misinformation on social networks.

Dr. Zubin Damania is better known on social as ZDoggMD. His fun social videos counter untrue and irresponsible health claims. He has built a community of more than a million followers on his Facebook page.

On Twitter, Dr. David Juurlink shares important information about the ongoing opioid crisis. He is also dedicated to taking down health non-science.

Crisis communication

More people now get their news from social media than from newspapers. That makes social a key place to share breaking information. It’s a perfect platform for critical instructions during a health crisis.

Typhoon Mangkhut hit the Philippines in September 2018. As it approached, the World Health Organization turned to its social channels. The organization posted infographics about staying safe during and after the typhoon.

The American Health Lawyers Association, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management, and the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development worked together to create a quick, free guide to crisis communications in healthcare. Here are some of their key points to help you prepare for a crisis in advance.

  • Identify key stakeholders, a primary contact, and a spokesperson
  • Know what to do in the first five minutes of a crisis
  • Build trust with your audience–including your internal audience

Want to make sure you’re ready to use social media in a healthcare crisis situation? Check out our post on social media crisis management.

Public health monitoring

People post about everything online, including their health. Hashtags like #flu can reveal when diseases are popping up in new locations. Public health organizations can even get a sense of the severity of symptoms.

“Social media offers advantages over traditional data sources, including real-time data availability, ease of access, and reduced cost. Social media allows us to ask, and answer, questions we never thought possible.” So wrote professors Michael Paul and Mark Dredze in their book, Social Monitoring for Public Health.

Official healthcare social media channels can also provide real-time health information.

For example, look at the Centers for Disease Control’s tweets during flu season. They share updates on flu activity across the United States to encourage people to get a flu shot.

Citizen engagement

Healthcare issues can be tricky to talk about, even with doctors, especially for subjects seen as private or embarrassing. That can get in the way of effective healthcare.

For example, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), only 12 percent of young people said they had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases in the last year. But more than half of STDs affect those between the ages of 15 and 24.

ASHA wanted to encourage this age group to view STD testing as a normal part of taking care of their own health. So, they created a healthcare social media campaign. The main component was a social video. In it, comedian Whitney Cummings talking to college students about sexual health.

The video got more than 3.6 million views in 10 weeks. Facebook ads drove 77 percent of the 107,0000 visits to the campaign landing page. Those ads were responsible for 43 percent of clicks on the campaign’s clinic locator. That shows viewers planned to take real action.

Patient support

Nearly 40 percent of young people (ages 14 to 22) have used online tools, to try to connect with other people who have similar health challenges. That includes social media groups.

That connection can have real benefits for patients. Researchers published in the journal Surgery created a Facebook group for 350 liver transplant patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. A full 95 percent of survey respondents said that joining the group had been positive for their care.

Facebook groups are also a great place for healthcare professionals and patients to interact. Those interactions can include patient support and education. One study is evaluating if a Facebook group for coronary heart disease patients can increase participation in cardiac rehabilitation .

Of course, here are privacy concerns when discussing health online. this is a great use of Facebook secret groups, which do not show up in search results. Users have to be invited to join.

Research recruitment

Social networks offer an opportunity to connect with potential study and survey participants. Like brands, researchers need to understand social media demographics. It’s also important to know how to use keywords, and how to target social media ads.

Connected & Open Research Ethics is a project of the University of California San Diego. The group help researchers establish guidelines for ethical research using new digital tools. Social networks are among those tools.

Reputation management

A recent survey found that nearly three-quarters of patients use online reviews as the first step when finding a new doctor.

The survey found that most patients tend to leave positive reviews. Sometimes, of course, a doctor or practice does receive a negative review. When that happens, 65 percent of respondents said it was important for the doctor to respond.


Nearly two-thirds of U.S. healthcare marketers used social media to reach healthcare professionals in 2017. On the consumer side, 2017 marked the first time more than half of firms (56.8%) used social marketing.

In Germany, Merck Consumer Health used a Facebook ad campaign for its Femibion BabyPlanung product. The goal was to raise product awareness through product sampling. The campaign brought in 10,000 leads.

Femibion Facebook ad

“Only 50% of women are consulting their gynecologist when making the decision to get pregnant. But they are searching for information on the internet and for experiences within social media.” So said Beate Rosenthal, global brand director digital & media, Merck Consumer Health.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Get the free guide right now!

Social media tips for healthcare organizations

Educate and share valuable content

People need a reason to follow and engage with you online. Valuable content that educates and informs is a great reason.

For example, the Mayo Clinic creates regular social videos. The “Mayo Clinic Minutes” cover popular health and wellness subjects. Recent examples include skiing safety, allergies, and making healthier pancakes. The videos regularly rack up more than 10,000 views. This one, on the rise of e-cigarettes, has been watched more than 20,000 times.

The information needs to be credible, of course. And true. But you can get creative and entertaining if that makes sense for your brand. For example, here’s another ZDoggMD video:

Make sure the tone you use is appropriate for your brand personality. The Mayo Clinic videos and the ZDoggMD videos are both engaging in their own way. But it would be very jarring if they exchanged styles.

Effective use of social media in healthcare requires a strong voice. Think your healthcare product or organization is too boring? Think again. For inspiration, check out our post on ways to promote a “boring” product on social media.

Listen for relevant conversations

You read earlier in this post that people say it’s important for a doctor to respond to negative online reviews. That’s a good reason to use social listening effectively. Otherwise, you may not know when people leave negative posts about you on social networks. And if you don’t know about the negative posts, you can’t respond.

Of course, social listening is about much more than addressing negative posts. It also allows you to track conversations relevant to your field.

Those conversations can help you understand how people feel about you. You can also learn how they feel about the competition. You might even identify new ideas that help guide your marketing communication strategy.

Here are some key terms to listen for on social channels:

  • Your organization or practice name and handles
  • Your product name(s), including common misspellings
  • Your competitors’ brand names, product names, and handles
  • Industry buzzwords: The Healthcare Hashtag Project is a great place to start.
  • Your slogan and those of your competitors
  • Names of key people in your organization (your CEO, spokesperson, etc.)
  • Names of key people in your competitors’ organizations
  • Campaign names or keywords
  • Your branded hashtags and those of your competitors

Here’s how to get started:

Remain compliant

Healthcare social media accounts are subject to some pretty strict rules and regulations. HIPAA compliance is a big one, but you also need to make sure you follow FDA rules about advertising.

One of the best-known examples of social media and healthcare clashing in the eye of authorities involves Kim Kardashian. She endorsed the morning sickness drug Diclegis in an Instagram post. Her post contained a link to risk information and limitations of use. But, the FDA determined this information needed to be within the post itself.

After a stern FDA warning, she had to replace he post. Here’s the updated version after the FDA warning:

View this post on Instagram

#CorrectiveAd I guess you saw the attention my last #morningsickness post received. The FDA has told Duchesnay, Inc., that my last post about Diclegis (doxylamine succinate and pyridoxine HCl) was incomplete because it did not include any risk information or important limitations of use for Diclegis. A link to this information accompanied the post, but this didn’t meet FDA requirements. So, I’m re-posting and sharing this important information about Diclegis. For US Residents Only. Diclegis is a prescription medicine used to treat nausea and vomiting of pregnancy in women who have not improved with change in diet or other non-medicine treatments. Limitation of Use: Diclegis has not been studied in women with hyperemesis gravidarum. Important Safety Information Do not take Diclegis if you are allergic to doxylamine succinate, other ethanolamine derivative antihistamines, pyridoxine hydrochloride or any of the ingredients in Diclegis. You should also not take Diclegis in combination with medicines called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), as these medicines can intensify and prolong the adverse CNS effects of Diclegis. The most common side effect of Diclegis is drowsiness. Do not drive, operate heavy machinery, or other activities that need your full attention unless your healthcare provider says that you may do so. Do not drink alcohol, or take other central nervous system depressants such as cough and cold medicines, certain pain medicines, and medicines that help you sleep while you take Diclegis. Severe drowsiness can happen or become worse causing falls or accidents. Tell your healthcare provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. Diclegis can pass into your breast milk and may harm your baby. You should not breastfeed while using Diclegis. Additional safety information can be found at or Duchesnay USA encourages you to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on Aug 30, 2015 at 6:01pm PDT

Of course, you don’t want lawyers writing all your social media posts. But you might want lawyers (or other compliance experts) to review posts before they go live. This is especially true for major announcements or posts that are particularly sensitive,

Hootsuite can get more of your team involved without increasing compliance risk. People from across your organization can contribute social media content. Then, only those who understand the compliance rules can make a post live.

Your organization needs a social media strategy, a social media style guide, and social media guidelines. These can help make sure everyone understands the social strategy. They also make it clear how the strategy aligns with the relevant rules and regulations. Include clear, HIPAA-compliant guidelines for handling patient information in social posts.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the comments users leave on your social media posts and profiles, too. These can also create compliance concerns.

It’s always good practice to respond to and engage with social comments. After all, no one likes talking into a void. Your followers will be more likely to engage with your content if they get a response from someone on your team.

When compliance is involved, you may need to take extra steps. For example, you should remove comments that raise privacy concerns. Also watch out for inappropriate claims.

Stay secure

It’s important to put security guidelines in place for your social media channels. You need to be able to revoke access for anyone who leaves the organization.

With Hootsuite, you can manage permissions from one centralized dashboard. That means you can always control access to social channels.

Integrations can help further secure your healthcare social media channels. For instance, AETracker can help you find and report issues like product complaints and off-label usage. You’ll find out as they happen, so you can take action right away.

Social Safeguard can help screen your social posts against your social media policies. This prevents non-compliant posts from going live.

The simple truth is that patients now use social media. They use it to look for information, find support, and make healthcare decisions. Combining social media and healthcare can be challenging, it’s true.

But the use of social media in healthcare also presents incredible new opportunities. Social media is a great platform to share important health information. It’s also a key place to gather real-time research and insights. Most important, social media is away to support patients.

Effectively communicate with the public, improve patient experience, and ensure compliance with health care industry regulations by managing your social media presence with Hootsuite. From one dashboard, you can create, schedule, and publish to all the major social networks.

Try it free

The post How to Use Social Media in Healthcare: A Guide for Health Professionals appeared first on Hootsuite Social Media Management.

Article syndicated from HootSuite


Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

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