Texas Hospitals – Getting Serious About Social Media

Posted by: in Analytics, Austin Social Media, Healthcare Insights, Social Media Insights & Trends on August 7, 2012

UPDATE: This is the first post in a series of 3. Be sure to click through to Fun with Twitter Data and Bringing Data to Life

Conventional wisdom in the world of hospitals is that marketing and communications to patients and consumers will only go so far … after all, isn’t the advice of your doctor the most important factor in where you’ll choose to have a procedure done?  There’s no question that for most healthcare consumers, the advice of the doctor is key.  But what’s really interesting is that according to a 2012 Price Waterhouse report (Social Media “Likes” Healthcare: From Marketing to Social Business – April, 2012), 45% of healthcare consumers will use social media to decide whether to get a second opinion on their diagnosis and treatment.  And 41% will actually use social media to determine what doctors to see AND what hospitals to visit.

In spite of those facts, many US hospitals lag significantly behind the pace with regard to the use of social media.  And it’s for that reason that The Texas Hospital Association will be offering its first Health Care Social Media Summit this week in Austin.  And unlike many regional conferences, the THA has outdone itself in bringing some of the country’s leading thinkers in the space into town.

Starting on Thursday the 9th, our fair city will be graced by the likes of Lee Aase (Head of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media), Ed Bennett (Director of Web Strategy at the University of Maryland Medical Center), Chris Boyer (Director of Digital Marketing and Communications for Inova Health Systems), Abby McNeil (Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Christus Health) and Bryan Vartabedian (Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine & attending physician at Texas Children’s Hospital) among others.  And they’ll be joined by “local favorites” like Heidi Schultz Adams from the Livestrong Foundation and Reed Smith – one of my oldest friends in the healthcare/social media world and one of the masterminds behind the summit.

The idea of a trade association like the THA sponsoring a summit of this magnitude is impressive, and a trend that I hope we’ll see replicated in other areas.  I know that’s also the hope of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, which is devoted to helping hospitals around the country better understand how social and digital media can change the way they interact with their most important stakeholders.

Bringing a group like that is no mean undertaking, so I was glad to have a chance to talk to THA’s Vice President for Advocacy Communications, Lance Lunsford, about the story behind the conference.


GM: I’ve had a chance to look at the (impressive) agenda and speaker list for the conference.  Give me some nuts and bolts – what’s HCSMTX all about?

LUNSFORD: The idea behind the summit is that we want to help hospital executives and communicators to move to the next level of dialog with their patients using social media.  Most of our member hospitals have had plenty of opportunity to digest the “Social Media 101” content we usually see at conferences; we wanted them to be able to go deeper in terms of reaching their target audiences.  We’re a long way from truly understanding all the ways that patients and physicians use social media, but it’s our hope that by bringing in leading practitioners and focusing on real-life case studies and best practice examples, we’ll be able to give our attendees the tools – and the inspiration – they need to go back to work on Monday and raise their game.

GM: Why is social media so important for hospitals today?

LUNSFORD: In the past, hospital communications have largely consisted of “talking at” patients – trying to achieve a point solution to an immediate problem.  But in the new world of healthcare, we have to begin a much more collaborative relationship with patients.  That kind of two-way communication between a doctor and patient, or a hospital and patient, is going to be at the center of new healthcare models like Accountable Care Organizations and Patient-Centered Medical Homes, to cite two obvious examples.

GM: Most of the social media efforts I’ve seen coming from hospitals today looks a lot like marketing and PR.  Is that what we’re talking about here?

LUNSFORD: There’s no question that hospitals need to do a better job of letting consumers (patients and caregivers – and for that matter, physicians) know about the services they provide and what differentiates them from competing facilities.  But it goes well beyond that.  I’d say that the most important use of social media for hospitals in the near-term (and perhaps in the long term) will be for patient education.  We see it as a way of actually “extending the hospital” post-discharge to ensure that patients have all of the tools they need to best manage their care.

GM: Texas is perhaps a bit unusual in that hospitals don’t employee physicians. Does that mean that doctors aren’t a core audience for hospitals’ social media communications?

LUNSFORD: Not at all … in fact, I’d say that it’s quite the opposite.  Hospitals and doctors are always creating content together, from white papers to journal articles.  There is no reason that hospitals shouldn’t be using all of their digital channels to make that information available to the widest possible audience – especially physicians.  Physician communications definitely requires a different strategy than patient communications, but both are absolutely necessary and should include social media in the mix.

GM: In terms of the conference itself, give me all the details … when, where, who, etc.

LUNSFORD: We’ll be convening the group this Thursday, August 9th, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.  We’re really excited to have over a hundred confirmed attendees – coming from a wide range of backgrounds.  The attendees will include a number of hospital communicators and marketers, but we’ve also been gratified to see that a number of senior executives are planning to be in attendance – a sign of how important this topic is for our member organizations.

GM: Sounds like a fantastic event, Lance.  Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, and I’ll hope to catch up with you Thursday at the conference!


According to Lance, the initial success metrics for the conference are focused on reaching as broad an audience as possible and engaging them in thought-provoking, actionable conversations.  But I’ll also be curious to see what it does for activity levels in social media.  I had a chance to do a little work with my friend Andy Boothe to look at some current practices among Texas hospitals … with interesting results.  I thought it’d be interesting to share a few statistics with you here – before the summit – and then to do a follow up in a month or so to see whether anything’s changed.  From today’s snapshot:

  • There are 661 facilities listed on the THA’s Texas Hospital Directory.  Of those facilities:
  • 186 link to a Twitter account from their home page. 142 link to a YouTube channel and 134 link to a Facebook page.
  • Those 186 facilities share 65 twitter accounts between them (many multi-site systems use 1 or 2 twitter accounts for the entire system).
  • The large majority of those accounts are quite active; 42% tweeted within the last day and 79% have tweeted within the last week. Only 3 accounts haven’t tweeted within the last year.
  • 62% of those accounts have existed for more than two years; only 9% are less than a year old.
  • 32% of accounts have over 1,000 followers; 26% have less than 100.

And what fun are statistics without a few top 10 lists?  Without further ado:

Top 10 Accounts by Number of Followers:

  1. Veterans Health* (@VeteransHealth) – 15,218
  2. Baylor Health Care (@BaylorHealth) – 5,725
  3. Methodist Hospital (@MethodistHosp) – 5,318
  4. Shriners’ Hospital* (@shrinershosp) – 5,019
  5. Parkland Hospital (@parklandhealth) – 3,265
  6. Texas Health Resources (@texashealth) – 3,176
  7. Seton Healthcare (@setonfamily) – 2,217
  8. Scott & White (@swhealthcare) – 2,152
  9. Methodist Health SA (@SAHealth210) – 2,081
  10. CHRISTUS Health (@CHRISTUSHealth) – 2,005
  11. Baptist Health System (@BaptistHealthSA) – 1,747
  12. Driscoll Children’s (@dchstx) – 1,733

Top 10 Accounts by Most Tweets per Day:

  1. South Texas Health System (@stxhealthsystem) – 2.8
  2. Veterans Health* (@VeteransHealth) – 2.6
  3. Texas Health Resources (@texashealth) – 2.3
  4. Baylor Health Care (@BaylorHealth) – 2.2
  5. Devereux DCRC (@BuildUrBounce) – 1.9
  6. Southwest Surgical (@SWSHospital) – 1.7
  7. Methodist Hospital (@MethodistHosp) – 1.7
  8. San Antonio VAMC (@SanAntonioVAMC) – 1.4
  9. Med Center of Arlington (@MedCArlington) – 1.3
  10. Med Center of Lewisville (@mclewisville) – 1.2
  11. Plaza Medical Center (@PlazaMedical) – 1.2
  12. Methodist Health-SA (@SAHealth210) – 1.2

… and there’s plenty more where that came from; we haven’t even done a deep dive into the content yet.  If you’re in Austin and interested in healthcare and social media, you’ll rarely see this kind of speaker lineup all in one place – and the opportunities for networking should be terrific.  And if you can’t make it, don’t forget to track the hashtag on Twitter – follow along at #HCSMTX.  We’ll be there as well.

UPDATEThis is the first post in a series of 3. Be sure to click through to Fun with Twitter Data and Bringing Data to Life as well!

* Denotes national facilities (and twitter accounts) of institutions with facilities in Texas


By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

Find me on: Twitter
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