Radiology Practices Reap Social Media Dividends

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For more than a decade, patients have been assuming greater control over their healthcare, facilitated almost exclusively by the internet. Clinicians and administrators alike are well-aware of the benefits and dangers of this trend—informed patients can make better decisions regarding their health; misinformed patients, in addition to making poor decisions, may mimic sophomoric med students with compulsive and inaccurate self-diagnoses.

Instead of standing by and watching the virtual affair unfold, radiology practices are now reasserting their own roles in healthcare, as sources of accurate and reliable information for patients and referring physicians. Outside of the clinic, the main venue for this stepped-up dialogue is social media. Consider:

In 2009, after Inland Imaging in Spokane, Wash., launched a Facebook page and website targeting under-screened women, mammography exams increased 9 percent.

Each Facebook post touting cardiovascular and breast screening nabs up to 600 impressions for St. Luke’s Health System in Sioux City, Iowa.

Perhaps better than any other physicians along the continuum of care, radiologists understand the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships—radiology’s lifeblood is referrals from other physicians. Whereas radiology practices have traditionally depended upon direct relationships with referring physicians, medical marketers are employing sites like Facebook and Twitter to induce referral requests or walk-ins from patients. A 2009 Manhattan Research survey found that 35 percent of adults in the U.S. rely on social media as a source for medical information. Referring docs maintain cardinal influence over referrals, but radiology practices can affect more patient flow by entrenching relationships with prior as well as potential patients. Aside from providing quality healthcare, one of the most effective ways to influence patients’ choices of caregivers may be social media.

Relationship-building enters the social media era

“The key to building relationships in medicine is always going to be establishing yourself as a reliable and loyal resource to patients and referring physicians,” says Kim Longeteig, founder and principal of Ali’i Marketing and Design in Waikoloa, Hawaii, which caters to radiology practices. In the last few years, social media has started to supplant traditional radiology marketing services.

Hundreds of thousands of people officially “like”—follow or periodically visit—the pages of hospitals and radiology practices on Facebook. Inland logs 6,300 followers on its two Facebook pages.

Inland has taken a rigidly strategic approach to Facebook, making sure to post consistently and deliberately, which means an end-of-the-week public relations meeting to set the next week’s social media agenda, according to Marketing Director Jason Miller. The practice spends $6,000 per year on social media promotions and advertisements, plus the salary of a full-time digital media specialist.

The costs pale in comparison to the benefits, which include 25 percent more traffic to the practice’s website (measured by Google Analytics); TV and radio coverage; partnerships with local businesses and university athletics; and increased examination volume. This last effect deserves real scrutiny: How can a practice attribute greater patient volume—and improved patient outcomes—to internet marketing?

Return on investment (ROI) haunts the intangible purview of public relations. “How do you measure that sort of thing? By Facebook friends? Impressions [page views, for which Inland averages about 3,000 per post]? Patient comments? I just don’t think anyone has gotten their arms around that one yet,” considers Cheri Bustos, vice president of public relations and communications for Iowa Health System (IHS), based in Des Moines.

“While of course we cannot conclude that 100 percent of our increase in screening was due to social media, it is pretty close when it comes to mammography, which is self-referring,” argues Miller. Inland conducted extensive research on Spokane women aged 40 to 65, discovering large pockets of women unscreened for breast cancer—most of them blaming their truancy on a lack of time and money. With patient care and ROI on the minds of the group’s marketing staff, administration and radiologists, Inland launched an aggressive web-based campaign targeting more than 3,000 Facebook members to fuel participation in screening. The comprehensive promotion targeted populations