I hear a lot of heathcare organizations asking the hows and whys of using social media. This week, Ed Bennet released the latest round of hospital social media stats - 890 hospitals are now engaged in some form of two-way, modern communication. And while that figure is impressive, validating and promising, there are still some 4,200 odd hospitals and countless physician practices, vendors, professional groups, patient groups, etc which are still struggling to understand the value of how people are communicating today. That's ok. They are asking themselves important questions which those organizations need to sort out for themselves. I will offer one cautionary bit of advice:

heathcare is not like retail

Sure, there's lots of talk about consumer driven healthcare. And maybe I've gone on on and on about what healthcare can learn from consumer companies. I'm not trying to contradict those points. What I am suggesting is that looking at retail as a model for using social platforms is flawed for a few reasons.

Retail can get away with...

Selling, for starters. When you interact with a retail brand online, you expect their goal is to sell you stuff. Indeed, the savvy ones understand the importance of experience and customer service in making the sale, but it's still about the sale.

So when a company asks you to fan them on facebook for deals or retweet for a chance to win, you enter into a pact which both the consumer and the retailer understand.

In the infographic above, the idea of giving away kidneys may be a crass example. It is however not any different from a retail approach.

What healthcare organizations can do...

Is what retail has a hard time with; actually caring about (and for) individuals. Healthcare organizations have an inherent trust based on the services they provide. When a healthcare provider ventures into modern communications, there is a pulpit awaiting them with the words "first do no harm" emblazoned on the front. That credo is also a pact which patients and providers understand. Providers can further build trust by using social platforms to extend the reach of their care.

Again, in the example above, actively listening for and responding to patient needs is something retail simply can't do with any cache. Here are some other things providers can do which retail cannot:

  • Give away trusted, curated medical news and tips
  • Help people find care
  • Participate in the medical decision making process
  • Be genuinely compassionate
  • Support community efforts without bias

Rather than taking the retail approach to interacting with the digitally connected, try taking the nursing approach. Let's ask ourselves what a nurse can do that a shopkeeper cannot (are there still shopkeepers? well, you get the idea).