The Challenges of Social Media in Healthcare and How to Solve Them

Benefits Of Social Media in Healthcare

Social media marketing, when executed the right way through the lens of today’s connected-consumer —  yields a number of organizational benefits for healthcare companies:

  1. Immediate channel access and more exposure to prospective and current patients who are living mobile and digital lifestyles; and who use technology to manage their lives and help achieve their goals. Case in point, Americans spent more time on their mobile devices in 2019 than they did watching TV; and in 2018, 39% of adults 18-29 rarely disconnected from the internet;  according to Pew Research cited in Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends report.
  2. Assisting your organization in being more approachable and transparent. These are two very important traits to Generation Z and Millennials.  In fact, the Social Media Examiner reported that 93% of all marketers indicated their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses, while 87% reported increased traffic.
  3. Helping to build or repair trust, which has plummeted across industries.
  4. And finally, social media can contribute to building preference, choice and loyalty from consumers.

Perceived Challenges of Social Media

Despite these advantages, a significant percentage of healthcare organizations are still hesitant to use social media to engage with current and prospective patients. This is not only because of heavy regulation and copious amounts of scrutiny, but also because brands aren’t sure how and where they fit within the context of how consumers manage their social lives and use social connections to help:

  • feel connected to others
  • assert their self-image and self-esteem
  • make decisions
  • live their lives more efficiently and effectively
  • enhance the value they get from a brand

Said another way, today’s digitally-enabled connected and empowered consumer demands more value from social media beyond “social.” They’re looking for valuable content that educates and informs, helps them find support and make more objective healthcare decisions.

Other Challenges of Social Media


The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects privacy for patients, and there are serious fines for releasing Protected Health Information (PHI). Some of the most common HIPAA violations include:

  • Posting of images and videos of patients without written consent
  • Posting of gossip about patients
  • Posting of any information that could allow an individual to be identified
  • Sharing of photographs or images taken inside a healthcare facility in which patients or PHI are visible
  • Sharing of photos, videos, or text on social media platforms within a private group

Patient-related posts, like patient testimonials, will have to go through a costly and time-consuming de-identification process and get reviewed by HR and HIPAA regulators before being posted.

Organization Policies

Many healthcare organizations discourage and even block social media usage on company networks. Aside from productivity issues, it can cause security breaches. For perspective, in 2018, 15 million patient records were breached during 503 healthcare data breaches. In these cases, there are serious repercussions for these companies. In 2017, recovery costs for stolen medical records were $380 per stolen record.


Healthcare organizations need to safeguard their image given the high stakes nature of their services. In addition, with trust already a problem, it’s better to be safe than sorry as it relates to social media postings that might backfire on the organization. For these reasons, social media content needs to be monitored by a seasoned marketer to manage the healthcare organization’s reputation.

Unclear Benefits

Healthcare organizations find it to difficult to measure ROI for inbound marketing techniques like social media marketing. In a recent 2019 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, only 44% of marketers agreed they were able to measure their organic social activities. In this same report, 86% of marketers agreed that they’d like to learn more about Facebook analytics, and 89% agreed that they’d like to learn more about Google Anaytics.

Solutions To Combat Social Media Challenges in Healthcare

Here are some solutions to combat the challenges healthcare organizations have with social media:

Determine The Role Social Media Will Play

What’s the role social media will play in helping your organization help your prospective patients, e.g.

  • education
  • thought-leadership
  • research
  • building top-of-mind awareness of your organization/service lines
  • creating positive brand associations of your organization

Determine Your Social Media Approach

Questions you need to answer include:

  • type, e.g. articles, videos, white papers, podcasts
  • style, e.g. interactive, authoritative, more friendly
  • sources, e.g. inside your organization (e.g. CEO, marketing, cross-functional), third-party
  • keywords that you want to own
  • guardrails, e.g. frequency, legal implications

Keep Patient Name and Information Anonymous in Blog Posts

To negate potential breaches of patient privacy, consider using patient personas instead of patient names when posting success stories. Prospective patients understand about privacy issues and will not disregard the value of a patient success story if a real patient’s name isn’t used.

Formalize Social Media Listening Practices

Integral to successful social media marketing is listening to what is being said about:

  • Your name, your handle,
  • Your services and possible misinformation
  • Competitor’s names/handles
  • People in your organization (CEO, spokesperson, etc.) and in competitor’s organizations
  • Campaign names and keywords
  • Branded hashtags and competitor’s hashtags

Set Up an Efficient Social Media Monitoring Work Flow

Creating a consistent and effective work flow is important to avoid review by HIPAA compliance officers.

Update Company Policies

What policies are in place for employee participation, brand consistency, crisis situations, etc. Company policies should be up to date to ensure that social media use by physicians, staff and others meet your organization’s criteria. Integrate employee training into the process to ensure that social media practices are understood and being followed.

Strengthened IT Infrastructure to Stay Secure

IT Infrastructures should be strengthened as follows:

  • Ensure no firewall holes
  • Ensure all antivirus protection is up-to-date; consider changing to stronger antivirus protection software if data has been breached in the past
  • Employees trained to recognize phishing scams and suspicious hacking activities
  • All employees who leave the organization are revoked of social media rights


Since 1999, Trajectory has shaped and guided brands across the healthcare and wellness landscape – launching, rebranding and implementing integrated marketing and digital programs. Reach out if you’re looking to bolster your social media marketing program.


Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.