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Social Media for Patient Choice of Healthcare Provider


Social media influenced communication greatly. People across the world are in a position to interact and learn from one another. Social media has also become part of most companies marketing strategies. One advantage of using social media as a marketing tool is that it promotes interaction between stakeholders in an organization(Anderson, 2012). On the other hand, traditional marketing tools such as televisions involve one-way communication. Therefore, marketers were not in a position to get feedback on their products. Such information is critical when making marketing decisions.

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Social media is heavily used for self-diagnosis by people across the world (Anderson, 2012). For example, ninety-six percent of Australians look up their symptoms on the internet before they can visit a doctor or health professional (Anderson, 2012). However, only thirty-seven percent of the health information available on the internet is accurate. Social media, therefore, provides a platform where a healthcare provider can interact directly with people. Therefore, risks associated with self-diagnosis are averted.

Social media influences patients’ decisions greatly. According to YouGov (2010), fifty-seven percent of customers indicate that presence of a hospital on social media influences their choice of healthcare provider. The report further indicates that eighty-one percent of hospitals on social media have cutting-edge clinical functions. Therefore, more hospitals have embraced social media as the basis of interaction between health professionals and consumers.

Target Groups and Social Media

Successful marketing campaigns are based on market segmentation. Market segmentation encompasses the division of consumers into compatible groups. Compatibility is based on similar needs which are influenced by factors such as age and geographical region (Anderson, 2012). Therefore, hospitals’ marketing strategies on social media should focus on addressing the needs of various consumers segments. Consequently, hospitals would be in a position to provide solutions for different problems experienced by consumers in a particular segment. The link between the hospital’s services and the solutio0ns above is, therefore, established.

Different age groups have different health concerns. For example, in the United States, 45% of teenagers engage in pre-marital sex. Therefore, this group (15-19 years) is at an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. This, also, contributes to an increased incidence of teen pregnancies. This age group is tech-savvy thus most of them access the internet and social networks regularly. While addressing the health concerns of this group, hospitals and health systems should be aware of the above health concerns. Information provided should relate to some of the risks associated with engaging in pre-marital sex. These risks include contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Information on such diseases should be availed to this particular segment of consumers. A link between the hospital’s services and potential clients from this particular category is created when such patients contact health professionals in the hospital. This is based on information provided through social media channels.

The consumer group most likely to connect to hospitals in social media is women between the ages of thirty-six to sixty-four (YouGov, 2010). Women in the age bracket mentioned above have several concerns. Some of the health concerns amongst women in this age group include risks associated with pregnancy, postpartum depression, and perimenopausal health concerns. The information targeting this group of patients should address the health concerns above.

Geographical regions also influence information contained on social media. There are certain diseases associated with particular regions and thus information related to these diseases is helpful to inhabitants and visitors alike. Similarly, there are diseases associated with ethnic groups based in various places (Chou, Hunt, Beckjord, Moser & Hesse, 2009). For example, there is a high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among African-Americans. Therefore, hospitals in areas that are predominantly African American should ensure that this information is available through their social networks.

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Social Media Tools

There are several tools or channels used on social media. However, the effectiveness of these tools is highly dependent on the availability of high-speed internet. High-speed internet is available in many countries across the world. This coupled with increased access to technical components such as computers and mobile phones have contributed to the momentous growth of social media.

Sixteen-seven percent of adults across the United States use internet services regularly (Chou et al., 2009). Twenty-three percent of the above figure reported that they used social networking sites (Chou et al., 2009). Some of the tools used for communication include social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Other websites include LinkedIn where professionals interact. Video blogging sites include YouTube.

Facebook and Twitter are the largest social networking sites across the world. Users interact by posting texts, pictures, and videos. Therefore, hospitals and health systems can incorporate social networking in their marketing strategies. For example, the Inova Health Care system in Northern Virginia has incorporated the use of social networking sites as part of the system’s marketing strategy. The health system runs accounts on both Facebook and Twitter. Inova Health System has Facebook communities that relate to specific areas of interest (Boyer, 2011) Areas of interest include fitness, pediatric care, and bariatric surgery recovery (Boyer, 2011). Also, information on hospitals in the health care system is rarely posted on such forums.

Several benefits accrue from the use of social networking sites. The community has increased trust in the information provided by Inova Health Systems. Therefore, Inova’s accounts on the above social networking sites are seen as a source of valuable health information. The accounts, therefore, are not perceived as marketing platforms for the health system but as initiators of health conversations in the community (Boyer, 2011).

The introduction of information about the health system is done after building confidence in society. Therefore, information on health services provided by Inova is aligned with the groups’ interests outlined above. The above has seen Inova Health System expand services through interactions with members of the community.

Cleveland Clinic Facebook presence helps the organization interact with members of the local community (Sharp, 2011). Facebook enables direct interaction between the hospital’s staff and members of the community. One of the benefits of running the Facebook account is the increased word-of-mouth advertisement. Therefore, more community members are in a position to access services from the clinic through referrals from friends.

Another useful social media tool is YouTube. Through YouTube, health organizations are in a position to post videos related to a variety of topics. For example, Cleveland Clinic started a YouTube channel in 2009 (Sharp, 2011). The organization’s YouTube channel contains videos on topics such as health tips, discoveries, disease information, and patient stories (Sharp, 2011). Initially, the channel had seventy videos which generated sixty thousand views. Currently, the channel has over eight hundred videos with views of up to seven hundred thousand views.

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Similarly, video chat can be used as a tool of interaction on social media. Patients and other community members interact with a health professional. They are in a position to ask physicians specific questions which enhances interaction. Also, online chat sites are useful where physicians answer patients’ personal questions. Cleveland clinic for example has scheduled an hour on its online chat site. In this hour, patients ask physicians personal questions (Sharp, 2011).

Content Selection on Social Media

Several factors are considered in selecting social media content. Content on social media should be helpful to the patients (Boyer, 2011, p.39). Often, people seeking health information are distraught thus content on social media should address their needs. Its imperative that the language used to deliver content is simple to understand. This includes situations where patients are in direct contact with physicians. Also, it’s important to note that content shared on social media should not scare patients. Threatening language, therefore, should be avoided.

Additionally, in cases where patients or members of the community give immediate feedback, their concern and needs should be addressed. Therefore, health professionals should allow patients to weigh care options provided by hospitals or health systems (Boyer, 2011). All solutions provided by the health care professionals should address the patient’s needs and concerns.

There should be minimal broadcasting and traditional marketing on social media. Content should be relevant to the patients’ needs. Due to the huge number of patients and people, needs are varied. Therefore, generalized content should be avoided as most patients may not find it helpful. Similarly, the growth of an institution’s social media platform is heavily reliant on word-of-mouth advertising. Ensuring content is relevant to patients’ needs appeals to most patients thus referring more people to the site.

Social media is characterized by innovation. Therefore, innovations in social media are incorporated to make it more appealing to customers. For example, innovation in the mobile phone industry should be explored. Modern mobile phone handsets are internet-enabled thus more people are in a position to access social network sites. Hospitals and health systems should ensure that content is accessible from mobile phone handsets including introducing mobile phone applications which enable people to access the sight.

Content on social media encompasses varied topics including health and wellness tips. In the United States, the incidence of lifestyle diseases is on the increase. For example, more than eighty-five percent of the people with type 2 diabetes in the United States are overweight (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). Content on social media affiliated with hospitals and health systems should promote healthy lifestyles. This includes healthy eating habits and exercising routinely. Special incentives are also part of social media initiatives by hospitals and health systems. One benefit of incentives is that they arouse interest among patients and members of the community. Similarly, those participating in the programs get to learn about other programs and services offered by the hospital or under the health system. Special incentives include free health care screenings, blood pressure readings, and weight management consultations.

Content on social media includes health quizzes and polls. Hospitals and health systems are in a position to get feedback on some of their products and services. This information is critical to future decisions where it guides the hospital’s management on the proposed improvement. Through social media, peer support is introduced. Online social support groups have been introduced by various hospitals (Thielst, 2011). This is instrumental in preventing relapse amongst patients with various drug addictions. Through online forums, patients are in a position to share their experiences and thus find some common ground in their experiences. Moreover, hospitals are in a position to monitor the patient’s progress and thus maintain accurate records on the same

Social Media and Professional Development

Apart from interacting with patients and other members of the community, social media offers a platform where health professionals interact (Anderson, 2012). One advantage of this type of interaction on social media is that it’s economical on resources. Most health professionals including doctors are faced with time constraints. Therefore, through social media, they are in a position to share information on such things as technological advancement in the field.

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Social media has become instrumental in the recruitment and retention of employees. Therefore, hospitals post vacant positions on social networking sites. However, most administrators are cautious on such aspects in order not to compromise organizational culture (Anderson, 2012). Similarly, employees have embraced social networking as a medium of exchange. More organizations including health organizations are forced to incorporate social networking sites as part of their organizational culture. However, organizations have introduced policies aimed at monitoring and siphoning content on social networks.

Return on Investment

Hospitals and health organizations that have incorporated social media as part of their marketing strategies have several benefits. Firstly, through social media, they can conduct surveys on the performance of products and services. Therefore, such organizations cut costs associated with hiring companies to conduct such surveys. Also, raw data is collected during online surveys and interactions between health professionals and patients. This captures the needs and complaints of patients fully. The management is, therefore, in a position to address such complaints fully and thus ensure that patients get quality care in the future.

Also, through social media health service organizations build their brand image. Therefore, instead of such organizations carrying out expensive broadcast media campaigns, they can use social media to build their image. For example, Seattle Children’s Hospital used social media to relay the hospital’s apology for the death of a patient (Thielst, 2011). This led to overwhelming support for the hospital from social media. Therefore, the hospital’s image was not dented as a result of the above case.

Direct posting such as sign-ups for newsletters and registration for seminars can be used to measure the return on investment. This refers to tangible benefits that contribute to the organization’s bottom line. Similarly, organizations can correlate factors such as the number of conversations on the social network to patient utilization. Therefore, the through patient’s history, initial contact with the organization can be traced to social media.


Social media contributes to an increase in patients in hospitals and health systems. However, caution should be exercised while incorporating social media as part of the organization’s marketing strategy. Hospitals should aim at promoting healthy lifestyles amongst people. Treatment options should be linked with the needs of patients. This builds trust and confidence in patients which is critical in health care.

Reference List

Anderson, K.(2012). Social media; A new way to care and communicate. Australian Nursing Journal, 20(3), 22-25.

Boyer, C. (2011). Social Media for Healthcare Makes Sense. Frontiers of Health Management, 28(2), 35-40.

Chou W.Y., Hunt, Y. M., Beckjord, E. B., Moser, R. P., & Hesse. B.W. (2009). Social media use in Healthcare.Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 11 (4),48.

Sharp , J. (2011). Brand Awareness and Engagement: A Case Study in Healthcare Social Media. Frontiers of Health Management, 28(2), 29-33.

Thielst, C. B. (2011). Social Media: Ubiquitous Community and Patient Engagement. Frontiers of Health Management, 28(2), 3-14.

U.S Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). Do You Know Health risks of being Over Weight. Web.

YouGov, (2010). Consumers’ Use, Preference, and Expectations of Social Media. Web.

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