A Two-Part Study of Social Media for Health Care Organizations

Ricky C Leung* Ricky C Leung*, University of Missouri, Columbia, United States
Jing Li, ZS Associates, Evanston, United States

Track: Research
Presentation Topic: Building virtual communities and social networking applications for patients and consumers
Presentation Type: Oral presentation
Submission Type: Single Presentation

Building: Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School
Room: A-Pechet Room
Date: 2012-09-15 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM
Last modified: 2012-09-12

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Background: Social media has been promoted as a possible communication platform to mitigate patients’ unfulfilled social needs. Yet, it remains unclear what socio-technical factors determine the utility of social media for health communication.

Objectives: We focus on the utilization of social media among hospitals. Specifically, we examine: (1) the adoption rate of social media within a specific geographical region; (2) the usage of social media in terms of subscribers and discussions; and (3) changes in adoption rate and usage over time. Additionally, we seek to identify: (4) socio-technical factors that increase or limit the usage of social media for health communication.

Methods: We collect a sample of hospitals from the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA). In the quantitative part of this study, we analyze data that are publicly available from hospital-sponsored Facebook pages. After identifying hospitals that have established an official Facebook page, we use built-in features of Facebook (“likers” and “wall posts”) to quantify the number of subscribers and the amount of discussions. In the qualitative part, we collect interview data from social media developers, hospital administrators and Facebook users. These data complement the quantitative findings, and help us anticipate the further development of social media in the health sector.

Results: Among hospitals in Missouri, the utilization of Facebook has increased over time. As of February 2011, 39 percent of hospitals in our sample had set up an official Facebook page. In September 2011, 47 percent of hospitals had built a Facebook page, representing a 8 percent increase. Of these official hospital-sponsored Facebook pages, the average number of “likers” is 181 (standard deviation =752) in Feb 2011. The average number of “likers” increased dramatically to 1321 (standard deviation = 9062) in September 2011. The average number of discussions was 26 webpages (standard deviation = 29) in February 2011, increased to 53 webpages (standard deviation = 54) in September 2011. Our qualitative findings suggest that Facebook pages used primarily for “happy news” (such as birth announcement) tend to attract more subscribers. Additionally, the use of pictures and/or videos appears to be effective means of information dissemination. However, we also notice that some people may be unable to utilize social media readily. In particular, patients with less socially desirable news to share or those without a network of social media friends may feel uncomfortable participating in generic social media platforms such as Facebook.

Conclusions: In this study, we quantify the usage of social media among hospitals and identify factors that promote or limit its use. Based on our findings, we anticipate the further development of social media to unfold in two major ways: First, as social media continues to be widely adopted, health organizations may formulate clear guidelines to facilitate its meaningful use. For example, hospital employees may be given “social media time” at work to communicate with patients. Second, new social media platforms may emerge to serve specific patient groups (e.g. Treepple). In specific social media platforms, subscribers may seek social support more easily from others with similar health conditions or interests.

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