Here's social media strategy that, at first glance, may appear to be contradictory or, at the very least, not a good use of hospital resources.
I suggest that as the availability of online health care news becomes more prevalent and the number of patients searching the Internet seeking health
care news increases, hospitals should become more involved in aggregating and creating health care news outlets for their patients.
For example, I am suggesting that a cancer center aggregate and create a newsfeed, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed or other news distribution
Why the extra step when patients can simply Google "cancer news" and have current information at their fingertips? In a word: uncertainty.
Uncertainty creates problems for chronically ill patients
We don't like uncertainty. In fact, uncertainty is often what motivates us to seek more information (see: uncertainty reduction theory). Uncertainty is a particular problem with
patients who are chronically ill and their family members.
According to a recent article by Ryan J. Hurley, Kami A. Kosenko & Dale Brashers, "Research indicates that uncertainty plays an important role in
all stages of the cancer continuum, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment to survival or end-of-life care."
The results of their study published in the article Uncertain Terms: Message Features of Online Cancer News found that 65 percent of
Internet-based cancer news contains message features linked to the production of uncertainty. In other words, patients would likely develop greater
uncertainty after reading them.
What kind of information leads to uncertainty?
The characteristics of the articles that foster uncertainty include information that is too complex, ambiguous, or conflicting. In addition, too much
information or too little information can also foster uncertainty.
According to the study, "Individuals are increasingly reliant on the Internet for health information…. What is missing from the discussion of
online health information is attention to content and to the potential for online health resources to cause or exacerbate uncertainty in information
seekers." (If uncertainty in patients is an area of interest to you, I encourage you to read M.H. Mishel's 1999 article, Uncertainty in Chronic Illness in the Annual Review of Nursing Research.)
Use social media to lead patients to reliable information
From a social media standpoint, this study lifts up an opportunity for hospitals. Instead of having patients be frustrated and overwhelmed after
seeking information on the Internet, we can use social media to establish a guided pathway for patients and their families—a path that contains
information that is vetted to assure reliability and clarity.
We can use our physician experts to explain complex information in the language of our patients and offer interactive Q & A sessions, interviews or
webinars that can be recorded and accessed through the hospital's website or Facebook page.
We can attempt to counteract the frustration of uncertainty by pointing information seekers to a gateway of helpful information and toward
opportunities for interaction (chat rooms, webinars, Twitter chats or Facebook pages)—methods to help alleviate uncertainty.
Cancer is just one chronic illness that poses the challenge of uncertainty, but there are many, many others. Consider how your hospital's social media
strategies could provide opportunities to help patients and their families achieve greater understanding and acceptance and diminish the fear and
frustration of uncertainty.
Jean Kelso Sandlin is the senior strategist at Hive Strategies. You can read the
Hive Strategies blog here.