Facebook recently hit an impressive milestone. They announced that they have now reached 1 billion active users. Given that approximately 1 out of every 6 or 7 people on the planet are now using Facebook (and this doesn’t take into consideration other social networks), can the medical community ignore social media as a means to engage with potential patients?
There is already a demand for interaction with medical professionals via social media. A recent report released this week by the Canadian Red Cross indicated that “63% of Canadians think emergency services such as fire and police should be prepared to respond to a call for help posted on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter.”
Given the numbers on this recent survey, I think we can safely assume demand exists for a greater presence of both emergency medical help and general healthcare professionals / services on social media. Some might say we are already heading into dangerous territory when 35% of those polled in this recent Red Cross survey already believe they will gain assistance during an emergency by means of a post requesting help on a social media site (the official recommended method is still to call 911).
In every problem there is an opportunity
Since the demand for social media service for emergency medical care exists, there is also an incredible opportunity, specifically for medical surge capacity planning. Medical surge capacity is the term used to refer to the ability for an existing healthcare system to handle a dramatic increase in patients. Technology can be an incredible help with this. When the SARS outbreak hit Ontario in 2003, the number of daily calls to TeleHealth Ontario went from around 3500 to around 13,000. This kind of a sudden increase would swamp the average hospital, but with TeleHealth, all of the callers were able to speak to a medical professional without needing to visit their doctors or local hospitals.
Although one-to-one communication such as a phone call to Tele-Health is a great time saver and customer service benefit to a client, not to mention a financial advantage for the Province, it cannot always reach the desired number of people you seek to contact. A finite number of operators means a limited number of calls can be taken at any one time. What happens when your primary focus is reaching out to a community, and not intake related? Organizations like the Toronto Transit Commission are already demonstrating that social media can be effectively used for reaching a larger audience as well as responding to inquiries and concerns. The TTC often broadcasts scheduled and unplanned service delays and route changes, along with impromptu station or track closures through their Twitter account.
Social media channels of communication for emergency medical services could be incredibly efficient at dealing with large volumes of inquiry, as often there is a surge in demand for information as a result of a single occurrence (take the SARS outbreak for example), while still providing the flexibility to respond on an individual basis.
Often, one of the obstacles to building new services is the lack of certainty as to whether people will use them. After all, TeleHealth was launched as a pilot project in Ontario in the late 90s, while the phone was invented over a hundred years earlier. When we look at the Canadian Red Cross findings however, they seem to suggest there won’t be many barriers to people adopting a new social media service, in fact, it seems people are actively requesting it! 49% of respondents said they would sign up for electronic alerts in times of official warnings. Perhaps the future will see us tweeting about the next bird flu! Given the capacity challenges being faced by our medical system, social media could be the key to making more effective use of our limited resources!
Want to talk more about the challenges and opportunities of using social media in healthcare? Sign up for our amazing panel event on October 24th. Register now before it’s too late!