Swedish Health Services Melissa Tizon: The future of healthcare brands & social media


What does the future hold for healthcare brands as they begin to engage/extend their engagement with patients and communities through social media?

In this interview, part of our “Insider Insights” series, Melissa Tizon, Communications Director at Swedish Health Services, Seattle, shares her point of view.

1. How has social media impacted the way your organization does business?
Social media has added a whole new dimension to the way we engage our community. It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected with Greater Seattle and be part of the conversation. It’s also given us a new tool for telling our own story. Whereas we used to rely on traditional means, we can now broadcast our own stories via social media and engage the community in the process.

For example, last summer, we hosted a “sleep up” in the middle of the night via Ustream, Cover It Live and Twitter. Our sleep experts were on air the entire night talking about sleep issues and answering questions. More than 10,000 people tuned in (many more than we could have reached through lectures), so we feel we struck a chord and provided value for people struggling with health issues.

2. What are the key challenges Swedish is grappling with as it considers social media?
One of the main reasons we became active on social media was to see what people we’re saying about us online. Once we tuned in, it was amazing what we found. We discovered we had lots of brand ambassadors saying great stuff about us. It’s wonderful to discover compliments online, and it’s been a great opportunity to share them with our staff, say thank you to the folks who posted the comments and stay connected to them.

But from time to time, we also come across not-so-glowing comments, including service issues that need to be addressed. They can range from “I can’t get an appointment for two weeks” to the cable TV in my hospital room is out. Personally, I think it’s great to get these comments because my team and I can easily notify the nurse manager on duty and get the issues taken care of real time. We monitor social media channels on a daily basis, and we’ll escalate issues immediately if appropriate.

But I think one challenge for us and every health organization will be who owns customer service via social media? Is it the marketing communications department or patient relations? There’s a gray area between informal patient feedback sent via social media and formal complaints typically submitted in writing. This is an issue that I’d love to discuss more with my peers nationally to see how they’re addressing it. There’s been a lot of focus on HIPAA and social media. In the same vein, I’d love to see more conversation on how to handle patient feedback via social media.

3. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
If you’re still getting resistance to social media from the likes of Legal, IS and HR, don’t give up. For departments responsible for managing risk, it’s natural to be cautious and not want to open up what seems like a can of worms. But my experience has been that these groups realize that social media isn’t just a fad, and that they’d rather be prepared for what may come than be caught off guard. Also, I think they want to have a hand in shaping an enlightened social media policy for your organization.

My second lesson learned is that it pays to be personally proficient in social media. If you’re on a marketing communications team and have not engaged on Twitter personally or are not staying current on the newest tools, I encourage you to do so. You can’t think of social media as someone else’s job. Just like writing and editing are valued skills in our work, so is having a good grasp of social media. Because we’ve played in the space, we have a better understanding of the role it can play in our integrated marketing communications campaign, and how it can compliment our PR, advertising and internal-communications efforts.

We are very fortunate that we had a new member join our team last summer. It takes a village to gain momentum and build buzz around your brand via social media, and she’s been great about getting our physicians on board, and training our managers and staff. She helps people in our organization understand what they need to be thinking about when they use social media both personally and professionally, what they can do to support the organization’s brand and she brings a keen understanding of authenticity and building trust online.

4. In closing, the organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that ….
ultimately, differentiate on patient experience (and social media can play a role here as well). The more you can streamline the process for patients and make the experience as positive as possible, the more successful you’ll be in the long run. For a long time, the public has accepted/put up with flaws in healthcare – long wait times, lack of communication from staff, confusing bills, difficult to navigate way finding, etc. But in the future, patients will have less tolerance for a sub-par experience, and they’ll be much more discerning about where they go for care.

They’ll vote with their feet and choose the provider that makes the experience as seamless as possible. Good service and comfortable, clean facilities are a proxy for quality in the mind of the consumer. The average patients are probably not following your organization’s key metrics for clinical quality, but they will notice if it seems like their doctor or nurse isn’t listening to them, if their food arrives cold or if the facility isn’t spotless and well-kept.