By: 7 May 2014

A lthough healthcare firms are increasingly embracing social media as an important and successful business tool, many are still sitting on the fence, with neither the confidence nor knowledge to plunge their business or product into the social realm.

Yet, with stacks of supporting research showing the huge benefits that social media can bring, the time has come to get off the fence and start reaping these rewards.

There are the obvious benefits that social media can bring to your firm such as:

  • Generating traffic to your website
  • Increasing business opportunities
  • Improving the reputation of your brand
  • Increasing the awareness of your firm’s services
  • Reaching a wider audience and new potential clients

Allows you to easily communicate with your clients, both new and existing.
LinkedIn is already widely recognised as the social network for businesses, allowing easy networking between industry professionals. New research from Investis, found that LinkedIn generates more traffic to corporate websites (64%) than all the other social media platforms combined.

It should come as no surprise that using LinkedIn, a platform boasting more than 200 million members, is a fundamental way for firms to stay in touch with clients, generate new business leads and provide credentialing information and documents. However, this research also revealed that blogs are now the third most commonly used media tool for professional reasons. Suggestions that these blogs are being read frequently as those written by journalists and reporters, indicates that healthcare blogs are perceived as an credible source of information.

With more than 60%1 of adults using the internet to find health information, there is a clear market of people waiting to be better educated about where to find the information they need. By integrating social media into their existing communications strategies, healthcare organisations can work more efficiently by sharing knowledge on symptoms, research and treatments. As the UK is one of the most socially connected countries 2 in the world, making better use of these platforms should be the way forward. Social media has the ability to allow both patients and professionals to receive quick, timely and up to date information regarding different illnesses and diseases and dispel myths and misnomers, and can also create a hub or forum for patients to post their health questions, share concerns and converse with others.

Organisations such as the NHS are constantly being tasked with creating cost savings and efficiencies and social media can allow them to better achieve these objectives, as these statistics prove:

  • Over 40%3 of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health
  • 90%4 of respondents from 18 to 24 years of age said they would trust medical information shared by others on their social media networks
  • 19%5 of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone. Exercise, diet, and weight apps are the most popular types
  • 31%6 of health care professionals use social media for professional networking
  • 60%7 of doctors say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients 
  • 41%8 of people said social media would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital, or medical facility

What are the benefits for patients?

  • It helps patients connect with others in a similar situation to share experiences, knowledge and seek reassurance
  • There is a greater sense of anonymity which may encourage people with stigma attached illnesses to seek help and speak out about their problems
  • Allows patients to receive advice on the best type of care through the sharing of positive and negative experiences

And the benefits for medical professionals?

  • Connecting professionals allowing them to knowledge share, share experiences, best practice and receive up to date information.
  • Hospitals can quickly share news, changes and important information with patients e.g. new technology developments, ward closures etc.
  • Post leaflets and increase awareness around specific illnesses
  • Allows hospitals to data collect and identify peaks or troughs in specific illnesses
  • Allows up to date information regarding emergency situations e.g. natural disasters. Both patients and professionals are able to quickly share information to ensure the most efficient response

A case study from BUPA

Bupa has an extremely impressive external social media presence, with Twitter and Facebook profiles in Denmark, Arabia, Australia, Latin America and Hong Kong helping patients and customers connect with one another both locally and globally. They also have a Bupa International Twitter and Facebook presence, along with a YouTube channel that posts videos ranging from staff profiles to a documented Vietnam Medical Trek. Their UK social media presence includes three Facebook accounts, five Twitter profiles and two YouTube channels.9

Bupa has also created a series of mobile phone apps to help their customers stay healthy. Last year, in conjunction with the World Health Organisation, Bupa launched a new ‘Ground Miles App’ with the aim of “promoting the long-term habit of walking to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease”10 . The app was, and still is, a huge success. OpenIDEO 11 state that “more than a million people from over 150 countries across the world have participated in the largest walking challenge of its kind. 50,000 people have downloaded the free Ground Miles app to track their walking and help motivate them to walk more”.

The demand for social media within the healthcare industry is clearly evident and the benefits that it can bring to both patients and professionals are undeniable. In addition to the external gains there are huge benefits to be achieved within the organisation itself, by breaking down organisational and departmental silos and making collaboration far easier within the organisation.

Del Green, Bupa’s Internal Social Media Manager said: “Bupa12 has customers in over 190 countries, along with 64,000 employees, 50% of these being non-office based. Thus the organisation faced the challenge of creating a sense of unity and collaboration amongst its global employees.”
In 2009 the organisation launched Bupa Live, an internal social media platform that has been likened to Facebook, in order to connect its employees. The business was largely disconnected with regards to its IT infrastructure and there was very little knowledge sharing or collaboration between its global offices. Del Green states that: “The platform takes the behaviours and mind-set of social media platforms and delivers it in a business tool that allows people to talk, share, debate, discuss, and crowd source topics and ideas”.

Like any big organisation that embraces social media, this move didn’t come without its risks and concerns. Would the ‘noise’ of the platform drown out their corporate messages, hence loosing the original objectives? Or would the staff misuse the platform? These are all extremely valid concerns and are risks that must be taken into account by any business. However, Mr Green said Bupa addressed these concerns “by the realisation that this is actually a great tool for communication teams to utilise and use to connect with many employees in one easy way, as well as with which to listen to the tone of the business and what our employees are talking about. By taking a leap of faith and trusting employees to act responsibly, they will actually surprise you in using the tool to develop themselves and be creative in their role.”

So, has it been a success?

  • Bupa Live now has 15,000 registered users who have all signed up voluntarily.
  • They have employees signed up from all of their global offices.
  • They have all manner of staff users from nurses, call centre staff, finance, marketing… even their CEO.
  • Cost efficiencies and savings can be seen in terms of event planning, cross site project working, travel and distribution of rich content i.e. corporate videos.
  • The platform receives an average of 250,000 page views a day.
  • Frequently used by their CEO who logs on almost every day, blogging and interacting with staff from all over the world; this kind of employee interaction is invaluable to a large organisation, making staff feel valued and creating strong morale.
  • Bupa has reaped the advantages of ‘viral working’ i.e. mitigating the need to travel long distances and thus geographical distance is no longer an issue for the organisation.
  • Engagement scores significantly higher in employees that are users of the platform over those who are not.

Impressive statistics from Bupa, but this isn’t the only organisation embracing social media, you may remember Henry Ford Hospital 13 and their live procedure tweets? Following the discovery of a cancerous kidney tumour, they tweeted live updates of the surgery for all to follow. This was ground-breaking at the time and a fantastic use of making technology work by connecting up an audience that wanted to consume this kind of content. This created buzz and excitement around the live procedure, increasing awareness of both the organisation and the surgery. In addition, showing you are current and open to the modern world and willing to embrace new technologies helps attract new patients and potential employees.

At present, the NHS Choices has 57,898 Facebook likes, 119,000 Twitter followers and an extremely bustling YouTube Channel. Through these channels they share tips and advice on keeping active, the latest health news and provide a community hub; allowing users to knowledge share and ultimately improve their health. They state14 “Our Facebook page aims to bring you trusted information and advice to help you lead a healthier lifestyle. It is also a place for you to share your own experiences and discuss health topics with others”. Various NHS trusts have outlined social media toolkits and staff guides to help employees maximise the opportunities whilst mitigating the risks and to help connect them with their colleagues and their external service users.

So, if you’re a healthcare professional and you are yet to embrace social media, then the time has come to stop sitting on the fence and get online.

2. 31 million Facebook users (, LinkedIn 15 million UK users( Twitter 15 million UK users (
12. Is a leading international healthcare organisation with over 14 million customers in more than 190 countries. Their principal offices span 12 different regions ranging from UK, Saudi Arabia Thailand and Latin America, just to name a few.