Dr. Stephan Myers is a surgeon who has performed hundreds of bariatric surgeries that reduce the size of obese people's stomachs, helping them lose
weight and avoid the perils of diabetes.
The Columbus, Ohio, surgeon has won a wide readership through his blogs and tweets, and he is active on the bariatics Facebook page of the OhioHealth hospital system where he operates. He invites interested readers to take
online courses and sponsored a fashion show featuring patients who slimmed down after surgery.
Want more information? Myers will send you to OhioHealth's FreshStartBariatrics.com, part of a network of sites maintained by the
eight-hospital group, which was recently named among Thomson Reuter's list of the industry's
Ragan.com is examining the Internet communications strategies of these hospitals, and Myers is just one participant in OhioHealth's content creation
around areas like sports, cancer and women's health.
OhioHealth's microsites focus not on organs such as the heart, but on topics "where there's some passion," says Adrienne Shinn, director of digital
marketing and communications. The hospital system seeks to cover deeper areas that highlight a lifelong relationship with one's body.
'Let us be your partner'
"The premise behind that is, 'Let us be your partner,'" Shinn says. "'Let us help you out to understand what's going on with you. Let us [allow you to]
have a relationship with your docs.'"
To make this happen, the hospital has 2,500 Web pages. Six people are tasked with placing content on its sites, sometimes aided by 12 marketing
specialists and four media team members. But up to 300 people have helped create it, among them doctors and blogging executives, Shinn says.
OhioHealth's pregnancy-related BirthofaMom.com is particularly active, with a physicians' blog, information
on the stages of pregnancy and a form to ask questions of a doctor. All this has been boosted, however, by enviable reality show publicity.
OhioHealth has a relationship with the Lifetime TV series "One Born Every Minute,"
which chronicles the birth of children at the system's Riverside Methodist Hospital. Lifetime chose
the hospital after a nationwide location hunt which took into account the number of births, among other things. (Some 6,500 tot-bearing storks land
every year at the Columbus hospital.)
Lifetime mounted wall cameras around the maternity ward and got parents' permission to film them. The diverse community turned up an array of stories:
those of soldier families, lesbian moms, older parents having their first child, and a girl considering giving her baby up for adoption.
Parlaying a reality show into web exposure
OhioHealth in turn has sought to parlay that into further exposure. It has sent communications staff out with Kodak videocams to interview parents,
doctors, nurses and a producer. The latest shoot just finished, and new episodes will air this fall.
"That's the initial success," says Mark Hopkins, director of media relations, "but then parlaying that into something more through social media has
been really fun.
In a video interview for BirthofaMom.com, Riverside's Dr. Jason Melillo praised the show for keeping
the focus on the patients rather than following the docs around. The show gave him a window on how patients and nurses talk when physicians aren't in
"It kind of reminded me of when my kids were born, just watching people go through that," he said.
Lifetime mentions OhioHealth's childbirth Facebook page, and this
caused likes to shoot up from almost nothing to 3,000 when the first season aired. OhioHealth in turn uses Facebook to promote its web resources.
Doctors often work with a freelancer to provide content on BirthofaMom.com or answer questions that are submitted through the website. Once they have
submitted an article, they pass out cards to patients directing them to the information.
"It's been great because we've involved the physicians, and they're writing articles," Shinn says. "So that's why that site works well, because it's
the docs that are promoting the site because they're part of it. It goes back to, if it's organic, it's really powerful."
Not every hospital gets that kind of Hollywood-style exposure. But OhioHealth staff also uses social media in more quotidian ways.
'You can run with me'
Take the Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Center in Westerville, Ohio, where Dr. Thomas Lee's tweets mix medical information with personal observations. He recently lamented that everybody in
his household watches "The Bachelorette." (We feel for you, big guy.)
Shinn says Lee is "very active in supporting patients. Like, 'OK, You can get back to running, and I'm going to run. You can run with me.' He's got a
lot of these running events."
Last year OhioHealth undertook a nine-month examination of every one of its 4,000-pages, she says. Staffers cut 1,500 pages of content that didn't meet
its current mission or weren't getting enough page views to justify their presence. They listed every single page, its URL, its metrics and other
information on a gigantic spreadsheet. Pages that hadn't been seen more than 100 times a year were prime candidates for the chopping block—or for a
discussion of how better to promote or link to the information.
The hospital has been moving away from explanations of diseases or conditions, because that information is widely available on the Web. What OhioHealth
did do is add ways for visitors to interact.
"We're trying to get a call to action on every page or some sort of engagement on every page," Shinn says.
Since re-launching this spring, OhioHealth has done 20-25 updates of content a week. It also is asking staff to review information every three months
to keep things updated. (The hospital system uses a third-party content management tool called MEDSEEK.)
OhioHealth calculates return on investment in several ways. It tracks inbound clicks from Facebook and its blogs to things like class registration. A
video on hip resurfacing included a phone number to call, and receptionists asked callers where they'd heard about the procedure.
The hospital system also uses a customer relationship management company called CPM to track downstream revenue.
When people register on the site, OhioHealth can match their names against those who sign up for procedures later on. It doesn't make this information
available individually because of privacy concerns, but it aggregates the data to compare when a campaign started versus how many people signed up for,
say, an operation.
In any case, Myers, the bariatrics surgeon, appears to like the system. He has given up traditional marketing, Shinn says, and 99 percent of his new
patients come through social media. And patients seem pleased, too.
"I really think people are thrilled when the doctor that's actually doing your surgery is exchanging Facebook posts with you," Shinn says.