Copywriter Q&A: Angie Frederickson on Social Media in Healthcare

Angie Frederickson has two decades of marketing and journalism experience, and her specialty is healthcare marketing. Her impressive resume includes a four-year stint as the marketing manager at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and she has worked on content marketing and social campaigns for a variety of healthcare-related projects. In this installment of Copywriter Q&A, Angie spoke with The Writers For Hire (TWFH) about the role of social media in healthcare — particularly where reviews are concerned.

TWFH: To start off, can you tell us a bit about your healthcare background?

AF: So, my entire family is in health care. They’re all clinicians. That never interested me, but I’ve been around it my whole life, and I randomly decided to go back to school for health administration with a concentration in marketing. I already had a background in marketing, so I combined my interest in marketing with healthcare. From there, I went to work for Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta, where I developed strategic marketing plans focused mainly on pediatric injury prevention. It was an educational role; we’d reach out to parents in under-served communities and teach them how to protect their kids. We did campaigns about car seats, bike helmets, and drowning prevention.

TWFH: How has social media changed healthcare marketing?

AF: Healthcare has become more of a commodity; it’s more consumer-driven. In general, this is a good thing, but it also takes a little bit of the “expertise” feel out of it. Doctors were always put on a pedestal: They’re smart, we do what they say. But now, “Dr. Google”  is everybody’s favorite source. There’s so much information out there, and social media has given the healthcare industry extra responsibility and accountability to make sure that the right information is out there. But social media also allows for more quick communication. It’s common to hear patients say, “I can’t get through to my doctor,” or “I have a simple question, but nobody will call me back.” But with social, they can get answers quickly.

TWFH: What kind of social media presence should a healthcare provider have? Which sites/platforms make the most sense?

AF: Traditional platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Personally, I think Facebook makes the most sense. I’m on Facebook, along with the rest of women of a certain age — they’re the largest healthcare decision-makers for themselves and their families. So, hitting up a bunch of moms on Facebook makes sense to me.  

TWFH: How should healthcare providers use their social accounts? Are there certain types of content that tend to do better/attract more responses than others?

AF: More personal and practical is best. Part of the goal is to make healthcare providers more approachable, to show a “bedside manner.” To me, video is the way to go. A common complaint today is that healthcare isn’t personal enough; it’s too corporate now. But if you’ve got a doctor speaking directly to you in a video, it makes them seem relatable. And I’m not talking about high-tech, high production values — it’s better if they just set up their phone and record. An almost “homemade” appearance makes them seem like normal people. Also, random pictures of the office staff do really well. Or posts that say, “It’s Nurse Susie’s birthday!” People love that. It back to the idea of being approachable.

TWFH: Can you share an example or two of the most interesting/creative/innovative ways that healthcare providers are using social media?

AF: I saw a healthcare website where they were using social media for a weight-loss challenge. People could post updates and be encouraged by physicians. It was a two-way street. It wasn’t the organization just shooting out info. It got people involved.

TWFH: Is there anything that a healthcare organization should avoid when using social media?

AF: If you’ve got someone coming to your page, saying, “Hey Doc, I’ve got this rash . . . ” No. You can’t do any sort of diagnosing. You can’t put any personal information out there. You also need to make sure that any sort of references to a patient’s name, photo, etc. are all approved in writing ahead of time. Most healthcare organizations are engulfed in HIPAA — they are very aware of privacy issues.

TWFH: So, what should a healthcare organization do if someone posts on their page asking for medical advice or (eww) wants to talk about their weird rash?

AF: It’s a good idea to have a generic response for stuff like that. For example, “Thanks so much for reaching out, if this is an emergency, please dial 9-1-1.” Something that a lawyer has “blessed.”

TWFH: Let’s switch gears a little and talk about reviews. What makes online reviews so important to healthcare providers?

AF:  I think because people are scared to death of medical mistakes. There’s more at stake than deciding where to go to dinner. Reviews give them credible, real-life experience.

TWFH: What are the most important healthcare review sites?

AF: People go to the usual suspects: Google and Yelp. People are flocking to online review sites like crazy to make sure their doctor or healthcare organization is a good one.

TWFH: How can healthcare providers or facilities encourage patients to leave positive reviews?

AF: It depends on the type of practice. For example, if you’re an aesthetician, you might do a giveaway or a discount. But if you’re an oncology practice, that wouldn’t be appropriate. You can also set up computers or iPads right there at the checkout, with the review site already pulled up. Ask for reviews right there. People are receptive to that, especially if they’ve had a good experience.

TWFH: What do patients typically mention in positive reviews? What motivates them to leave positive reviews?

AF: If they’ve been to other doctors and find someone who finally helps them. For example, “My husband’s knee has been bothering him for years, and we finally tried this new doctor.” They also mention doctors who spend extra time with them and who don’t make them feel rushed. That’s a big deal.

TWFH: So, on the flip side of that: Why do patients typically leave negative reviews?

AF: It’s often for things outside of the control of the doctor or organization. Issues related to insurance. Or because they think the surgery center charged way too much. People also talk about long waiting times or feeling rushed through the appointment. They’ll also leave negative reviews if they didn’t get better.

TWFH: What are some strategies for responding to/dealing with negative reviews?

AF: Recap the situation. Be very sensitive. Don’t tell them they’re wrong. You have to be careful not to violate privacy. Even though they’re coming to you with their health information, you can’t respond with anything that would be a violation of privacy. A good strategy is to parrot back a little of what they say. So if they say, “I came in with flu and didn’t get better,” you can say, “I’m sorry the flu treatment didn’t work out.” You can’t say, “Well, we tried X and X medication.”

TWFH: Is there any sort of “rule” about how many negative reviews it takes to make a difference? How can you counteract negatives to sort of balance things out without being unethical or dishonest?

AF: There’s no scientific basis to this, but I’ve heard that if a doctor has below a four-star rating people get leery. Requesting reviews from patients who have had a good experience can help counter that: Hit up current patients. Try to catch people on their way out after their appointments. People are less likely to leave a negative review while checking out.

TWFH: What would be your plan for a healthcare provider who has little to no social presence or online review activity? What’s a good starting point?

AF: I think the first step is to make sure they have a good website. The goal of social media is to draw people to your website — so if your website is no good, you’ve lost before started. Set up a Facebook page and let people know about it. Post information in offices, exam rooms, and at checkouts. Another thing that works is putting your online patient registration form right next to links to your social media.  

TWFH: What is the best way to get patients from a healthcare provider’s social pages to their website?

AF: Doing really good teaser copy to get someone to a blog post, like “Here’s five things you don’t know about breast cancer screenings.” People seem more receptive to going to a specific blog entry. Really the big takeaway for me is finding a way through social to make the clinician or organization seem more approachable. That’s what seems to make the difference.

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Is Content Marketing a Cure-All for the Hospital Industry?

What if you could implement one marketing strategy that ties together other strategies, increases patient trust, extends return on investment, and connects directly with target audiences? Effective content marketing can do all of this, and more. While it might not be a miracle pill for the hospital industry, it comes close.

It is difficult to overlook the presence of content marketing across industries and disciplines. Not only are the majority of industries engaging in it at some level, 81 percent have established strategy devoted to content development, creation, and dissemination. Despite this, hospitals have historically lagged behind other industries in their efforts. Below are four excellent reasons your hospital needs to take the plunge and implement a content marketing strategy today.

Reason 1: Content marketing shapes overall marketing strategy.

The concept of content marketing is predicated on the idea of developing valuable content tailored to engage a specific audience. According to Scott Linabarger,  former senior director of multichannel content marketing for the Cleveland Clinic, “In many respects, health care is tailor-made for content marketing. Consumers are highly interested in their health and are often voracious consumers of information that will prevent or solve problems and enhance their quality of life.”

Linabarger was instrumental in the development of the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials website, established in 2015 as Health Hub. Health Essentials provides a virtual information center where patients can read about topics ranging from medical conditions, to common health questions, to diet and fitness. Here, people can find recipes for arugula salad or learn how to help children cope with parental divorce. In 2014, the American Marketing Association recognized the initiative as the best of healthcare content marketing.

While content satisfies audiences’ appetite for health-related information, it is also a highly effective vehicle for organizational branding, advises Heather Woolwine, public affairs and media relations director for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). “Content marketing allows you to tell your story the way you want it to be told, rather than being at the mercy of journalists to portray the information accurately, and with complete context,” Woolwine says.

The MUSC News Center provides news and information about recent developments and initiatives on campus and in clinics, tying national trends to local happenings and vice versa. It creates a narrative approach to news items like “Weak Heart No Match for Strong Love,” chronicling a patient’s in-hospital wedding while awaiting major heart surgery. Media and patients alike are drawn to the site, and articles often provide the bases for future media coverage.

Reason 2: Content marketing affects patient trust.

A collaborative study by Google and market research-firm, Compete, found 77 percent of patients use online search to find a healthcare provider. These patients are far more likely to begin their journey by seeking information on a disease or symptom than by searching for a particular facility or brand. This underscores the power of well-developed content. “Most consumers don’t need you,” says Linabarger. “And they don’t WANT to need you…Communicating useful, helpful, and relevant information that solves health problems on an everyday basis is a great way to stay connected with consumers and be top of mind when they do need you.”

While most people begin their medical web searches with conditions and symptoms, nearly half finish with a branded term such as the hospital name. With 83 percent of patients visiting hospital websites prior to making appointments, quality digital content is crucial to convert prospects to acquisitions. As Woolwine explains, “Content marketing forces you to think from the perspective of the consumer or end user. Quite frankly, you should be thinking from that perspective no matter what kind of communicating you’re doing.”

Additionally, content marketing creates a conversation that dispenses with complicated medical jargon to offer much-needed information in language more patients can understand. Studies show that terminology used in the medical field often far exceeds the literacy skill of the average patient. Packaging information in a “patient-friendly” manner that is clear, succinct, and easy to digest provides an invaluable service for patients of all literacy levels.

While any industry-specific jargon can be distracting, Woolwine says that healthcare jargon can be especially problematic. “It’s not only irritating to people and potentially anxiety-causing, it gets in the way of forming a good relationship,” she says. “We have a responsibility to establish trust, and you do that by being transparent, clear, and concise in whatever it is you’re trying to convey. It doesn’t mean you can’t be brilliant, cutting edge, or whatever superlative you want to throw in there — you can still talk to people in a simple and meaningful way.”

Reason 3: Content marketing increases return on investment.

Linabarger believes the nuances involved in relationship acquisition, development, and retention can make traditional ROI-driven marketing problematic with regard to hospital content marketing efforts. Patients put thought and effort into finding the right medical facility, and nearly half spend more than two weeks researching prior to booking an appointment. With that in mind, content marketing initiatives can be employed in a variety of way to extend return on investment.

“It’s not, ‘we want to do content marketing, how should we measure success?’” says Linabarger. “It’s ‘Here are our objectives; will content marketing help us achieve them and how so?’ In other words, you have to figure out what you want to accomplish and how you are going to measure success. Is it patient volume or brand awareness/affinity? Content marketing can help with both, but the distribution and promotion strategies are radically different.”

Applied effectively, these strategies produce content that can be measured and repurposed in a variety of ways. “We do frequent 20/20 content analyses,” says Woolwine. “Was what we put out liked? Are people reading it? This one did less well than we thought, and this one did better. Why? We use successful stories in prepackaging efforts to reporters. This was risky in years past, but now provides reporters with an angle, sources, quotes, images, etc. Fifteen years ago that might not have happened, but it’s happening now.”

Reason 4: Content marketing connects hospitals with target audiences.

Effective content marketing requires a thorough understanding of audiences, goals, and success measures. According to Linabarger, “It’s hard to stay focused in very large organizations with many competing agendas, but if you can clearly articulate goals and strategy upfront and get senior-level buy-in, that enables you to fight off the distractions and say ‘No.’ The other key, of course, is to serve your audience well.”

Woolwine says healthcare organizations must be careful to create content with the audience in mind. “In healthcare, when you have extremely smart people with many years of experience, you can have the temptation to pursue goals that may not align with the audience’s needs, wants, and desires,” she says. “The danger in this is that you may wind up with content that everyone in the organization loves and no one outside of the organization needs, wants, or reads.” Patients are discerning consumers of information, putting time and research into their health decisions. To succeed in content marketing, hospital marketers should first examine patient needs and wants, and then strive to meet them in a clear and authentic manner.

Linabarger’s advice? Start small. “Prove the case, then build from there,” he says. ”Stay focused. Pay attention to your target audience. Stay optimistic. Make adjustments. Keep moving!”

 

Sources:

Scott Linabarger, is a senior healthcare marketing strategist based in Dallas. He is the former VP of Strategic Accounts at Medicom Health and served in senior marketing positions at Tenet Healthcare and Cleveland Clinic.

 

Heather Woolwine serves as the public affairs and media relations director for the Medical University of South Carolina. Founded in 1824, MUSC is one of the nation’s premier academic health science centers. Heather serves as a spokesperson for MUSC, and actively manages the reputation and image of the enterprise through mass and social media relations.

 

Content Marketing Institute: “Discover 4 Key Differences Between B2C and B2B Marketers”

http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2015/10/b2c-content-marketing-research/

 

Content Marketing Institute: “Research Finds Healthcare Content Marketing Lags Two Years Behind”

http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2012/11/health-care-content-marketing-lags-two-years-behind/

 

Content Marketing Institute: “What is Content Marketing?”

http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/

 

Google/Compete Hospital Study: “The Digital Journey to Wellness 2012”

https://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/the-digital-journey-to-wellness-hospital-selection_research-studies.pdf

 

Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials Site

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/

 

MUSC News Center

http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/newscenter/

 

Suzanne Graham, RN, PhD and John Brookey, MD: “Do Patients Understand?”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037129/

 

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Our medical writing and editing portfolio includes a variety of projects, from RFP responses and marketing materials to web content, editorial pieces, and nonfiction books.

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An On-Call Writing Team

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Social Media and Today’s Hospitals

By Michelle Perron

When Facebook logged its first likes in 2004, no one was predicting that social networking would become a tool in the practice of medicine. Yet it has. From the revered Mayo Clinic to little-known regional specialty centers, the health care industry is finding that social media helps attract new appointments, generate revenue, and build relationships.

Research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2014 shows that virtually all hospitals in the United States are now using social media in some way.1 This is not an overstatement: 94.4 percent of the 3,371 hospitals reviewed operated a Facebook page, and 50.82 percent had a Twitter account. This study found that private nonprofit and teaching hospitals, typically in large urban areas, are the highest users of social media.
Its expertise in using socia
Although individual physicians aren’t using social media at the same rate as hospitals, they are finding it useful. In fact, another 2014 study, this one by MedData Group, found that more than 50 percent of the physicians using social media for work purposes are engaging with peers, marketing the practice, or providing thought leadership for patients.2

Leading the Way

The Mayo Clinic system is a recognized leader in health care industry use of social media. Tweet this

Lee Aase, Mayo ClinicLee Aase, Mayo ClinicIts expertise in using social platforms to connect with patients and build business is so valued that other health care organizations lean on the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN; #Mayo Clinic SMN) for collaborative help. In partnership with Hootsuite, the MCSMN even developed a continuing medical education course to teach medical providers how to create an online presence.3

Lee Aase is the director of Mayo’s Social and Digital Innovation Team, which is staffed by eight media professionals who orchestrate the system’s posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and You Tube. Activity on each outlet is unique, as shown below in the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds one afternoon in mid-January 2017.

MayoFacebookCapture

MayoTwitterCapture

MayoGooglePlusCapture

Each of the posts focuses on a particular subject area, ensuring a different experience for each media outlet user. The day’s topic selections can be influenced by the request of a Mayo department seeking more publicity (the sports medicine department in the Twitter feed), relevant national news stories (cervical cancer awareness month in the Google+ post), or the opening of a new hospital wing (the fifth floor of the Luther Building in the Facebook post). No matter the content decision, its goal is the same: to instill appreciation for Mayo Clinic and its resources.

In an interview, Aase pointed out that today’s widespread use of social media by Mayo Clinic is in keeping with its history. “Our reputation was made through word of mouth,” he said, “and that is just as true today as it was 100-plus years ago. Patients would come to Mayo Clinic because a friend recommended us. Now, social media provides ways for people to share the same types of recommendations.”

“Just Like Talking to a Patient”

Perhaps the most vivid examples of such recommendations are found on the Mayo Clinic’s YouTube channel, which features videos capturing everything from a patient’s first reaction to his restored sight via a bionic eye to the precise symptom presentation of a baby with whooping cough. No doubt thousands of that video’s million-plus views were by frantic parents trying to determine whether their infant’s bark-like sounds warranted a trip to the local ER.

One of the most powerful applications of Mayo Clinic’s YouTube channel is its line of videos for patients that feature staff physicians and other clinicians. These videos can offer information and encouragement to a patient trying to understand his or her rare diagnosis, reinforce the education provided during a complex office visit, or calm a patient’s unease before a surgical procedure by providing a step-by-step visual explanation of it.

Take, for example, the diagnosis of ventricular tachycardia, a condition that causes the heart to beat faster than normal. It can be treated with medication, surgery, or both. To a patient receiving this diagnosis after experiencing rapid heart activity, the term alone sounds ominous. By directing a newly diagnosed patient to a YouTube video accessible in the comfort of home, Mayo Clinic can repeat the information presented at the treating physician’s office. The video presentation is likely to be better understood because it is more digestible. The Mayo Clinic’s YouTube channel features videos on ventricular tachycardia and many other topics.

The educational application of social media is particularly appealing to busy physicians. They typically don’t have the time to prepare lengthy written material — but they’re more than happy to talk about what they know and what they can do for patients.

“For many doctors, it all comes down to time. That’s where the capturing of video is so helpful,” Aase said. “We [the communications team] take care of everything. They are happy to share their expertise in a manner that is just like talking to a patient.

“In the videos, we’re looking for them to say the things they say to patients several times a day, only to a broader audience,” Aase continued. “They’re demonstrating their expertise and showing empathy. We book a 15- to 30-minute timeframe and make them at ease. It’s a much more efficient use of time, and it is more impactful and genuine.”

Mayo’s Social and Digital Innovation staff uses smartphones and consumer-grade cameras to shoot video, then edits and loads to appropriate channels. As physicians and other Mayo Clinic staff members have been exposed to the value of social media via these video sessions, more are requesting that the team help them “take control of their identity” on LinkedIn and Twitter, Aase said. He and his staff regularly coach interested physicians in how to beef up their profiles across platforms.

Setting Ground Rules

In an age when a Twitter rant can get you fired, it’s important for all employers to have clear policies for social media usage. This is especially true in the health care industry, where privacy of information is sacrosanct. The Mayo Clinic developed guidelines for employees’ social media activity, and many other hospitals have followed suit.

The document boils down to common sense and the practice of established medical ethics. “The main thing is that they should stick to talking about what they know and what they do,” Aase said.

“No one should practice medicine online. We advise them to elevate it out to general terms, such as ‘a patient with these symptoms may have this condition, and these are the standard options for treatment.’ This highlights their understanding and avoids looking like they are giving a prescription to a patient.”

Smaller Markets

Granted, most hospitals don’t have the size or patient reach of the Mayo Clinic. So what about hospital use of social media in smaller settings and markets?

In a mid-sized or small city, the approach can be more streamlined and personal. The emphasis may also be on community relationships and trust more than branding on a large scale.

Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital (LSSH) in Lafayette, La., is a surgery center owned by 34 physicians in various surgical specialties. The mid-sized city of Lafayette is a competitive market for health care services (nine freestanding hospitals for a population of 124,000), and LSSH distinguishes itself by creating a facility where health care meets hospitality. Liz Hebert is the director of marketing and business development for Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital. Since she was hired in January 2015, she has focused the facility’s social media outreach on Facebook, where she works to build a sense of trust. She automatically feeds the LSSH Facebook posts to the hospital’s Twitter feed.

“I want to show people that we are involved in the community,” she said. “We use Facebook to inform the public about things we are involved in, and to show that we are a trusted resource for information.”

LafayetteCapture

As shown above, Hebert recently used the LSSH Facebook page to promote a community event she organized in conjunction with a new fitness facility. Anyone who saw the page was invited to a free class at a new indoor cycling facility near the hospital.

One of the most effective uses of social media at LSSH is highlighting the community-oriented activities its staff is involved in, Hebert said. The hospital uses its social platforms to feature events like its “31 Days of Giving Back” campaign during the month of December that encouraged random acts of kindness and a spring scavenger hunt that raises money for the local United Way chapter. Other posts report on patient satisfaction surveys and honors received by staff members.

“For me, the most important reason for our hospital to use social media is to develop a level of trust,” Hebert explained. “Even when you are confident in your choice of a surgeon and hospital, you’re still nervous. With our posts, and our day-to-day activities, we try to reduce those fears. We care about the community. We are dedicated to your care. Social media is one important way for us to get that across.”

References

  1. Griffis HM, Kilaru AS, Werner RM, et al. Use of Social Media Across US Hospitals: Descriptive Analysis of Adoption and Utilization. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2014;16(11):1-11.
  2. Silas R. How Are Physicians Using Social Media? MDigital Life.com. http://mdigitallife.com/how-are-physicians-using-social-media/ Citing work contained in the following report by Med Data Group: https://www.meddatagroup.com/wp-content/uploads/MedDataGroup-Physician-Adoption-of-Social-Media-Q22014.pdf
  3. Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Social for Healthcare Certificate from Mayo Clinic and Hootsuite. https://socialmedia.mayoclinic.org/social-media-basics-certification/

Better Hospital Communication Improves HCAHPS Scores

Since the establishment of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, one question has been plaguing hospitals all over the country….“How can we improve our HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores?”

With the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, which ties patient satisfaction scores to hospital reimbursements, hospitals are finding the need to really focus on the patient experience and improve their HCAHPS scores. The question is, how?

Studies done by experts such as Matthew Bates, managing director for Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, have found that the key to getting higher HCAHPS scores is focusing on and improving communication within hospitals.

According to Bates, whose national consulting firm works with approximately 1,000 hospitals on the patient experience focus, hospitals have been most challenged on the communication components of the HCAHPS.

Another study, out of Rush University Medical Center, found that by improving their methods of communication within the hospital, they were able to raise their overall HCAHPS ratings by nearly 10 percent, with the doctor communication scores demonstrating an improvement of 59 national percentile points.

So, what can hospitals do to improve communication?

For starters, many hospitals and health systems have begun establishing the role of Chief Experience Officer, or CXO, to have someone in charge of pinpointing the gaps in communication and finding ways to implement better communications methods.

In addition to enhancing verbal communication and patient interaction, CXOs are finding it equally important to improve hospitals’ written communications.

From signs posted in hospital rooms, to health information pamphlets given upon discharge, written communication is vital to the patient experience. Therefore, improving the way that a hospital utilizes written communication is key.

It has been found that communications are most effective when they:

  • Are easy to read
  • Simple to understand
  • Direct and to the point
  • Use pictures or graphics to help illustrate their purpose
  • Use fonts that are easy to read

Studies have also shown that most patient health information is written in a grade level too high for most people to understand.

According to the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, it is very important that hospitals design their written materials so that the average person cannot only read it, but can also fully comprehend what they are reading.

  • Vocabulary should be simple and clear.
  • Common words should be used in lieu of medical jargon:
  • “heart attack”, instead of “myocardial infarction”
  • “high blood pressure” instead of “hypertension”
  • “yellow” instead of “jaundice”
  • Materials should include appropriate illustrations.
  • Sentences should be short and to the point.

Cultural sensitivity is also very important in written communications.

Miscommunication between cultures, when it comes to medical information, can have devastating effects.

While a person may demonstrate proficiency in the spoken English language, this does not necessarily mean that they can properly comprehend the written information they are given.

Having educational materials available in a patient’s native language increases the likelihood of them being able to understand the information provided, and that they appropriately follow up with their care.

CapturePatientCommunications

Other ways hospitals are using written communication

facecardMany hospitals have found “face cards” — given to each patient upon first contact — are an inexpensive way to improve communication.

These cards include a photograph of the doctor, along with a description of their role and their contact information. These cards help patients to keep track of who is who within their medical team and what each of them is responsible for.

MemorialDataSheetAs an alternative to individual “face cards,” some hospitals are handing out reference sheets, which include pictures of each individual in their medical team, and the description of who they are and what they do.

Surveys done in hospitals using the “face cards” or reference sheets have found that patients really responded to the use of these methods, and that 92 percent of them would like to receive this kind of communication at future hospitalizations.

How technology plays a part:

Hospitals are capitalizing on the ever-increasing development of technology to improve communication, too. Hospitals are relying more and more on technology as means of communication. Kristin Baird, founder and CEO of the medical consulting firm, the Baird Group, described this trend in a recent interview.

“(Hospitals) are using engagement tools — software and apps and patient portals. Through these, patients have more direct access to their health information.”

Another way hospitals are taking advantage of the growing popularity of technology: they’re redesigning their websites to be more user-friendly and to provide more information for their patients.

  • Websites are featuring patient friendly toolbars, where basic information such as hospital contact information, links to pay medical bills, and specific medical departments can be readily accessed.
  • Videos, blogs, and preventative care information can all be accessed through online patient-care areas.
  • The videos can include scripted presentations by popular physicians who provide valuable information for patients.
  • Many hospital websites are beginning to spotlight online support groups and chat rooms, as well, where a patient can connect with others who are dealing with similar health conditions. The support groups also include addiction recovery. These can be privacy protected with the use of a log-in password. The patient therefore has 24/7 support in dealing with his/her health problem.

PatientPortal

Increasing numbers of hospital websites provide personal portals, as well, where patients can:

  • Access notes from their office visits
  • View lists of medications and immunizations, as well as lab results
  • Email a physician or nurse
  • Request prescription refills
  • Schedule appointments
  • Complete medical forms
  • Read educational material
  • View bills and make payments
  • Access medical history
  • Receive real-time updates about medical care, while admitted to a hospital

Information on the go

A recent FICO survey of more than 2,000 Smartphone users found that 80 percent of respondents would like a way to communicate and interact with their doctors on their mobile devices.

In early 2015, Practice Unite, a HIPAA-compliant mobile application platform for healthcare organizations, announced a new smartphone app for patients.

Through the mobile apps, which have similar functionality to the web portals, patients can access all of their important medical information wherever they are.

Hospitals benefit from Mobile Apps

MobileApp

Along with patients, physicians and hospitals benefit from the use of mobile apps, as well. A mobile app can be used by a doctor to:

  • Quickly retrieve a patient’s medical/surgical history
  • View any medications that the patient has been prescribed
  • Collaborate with a specialist in critical situations
  • Follow up with patients after discharge

Social Media

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are being used more and more by hospitals as a way to communicate with patients and differentiate themselves from the competition. Through these sites, hospitals can:

  • Advertise and promote upcoming events
  • Post health education videos
  • Answer general questions from patients
  • Share new and relevant studies

HospitalsSocialMedia

Social medial sites also can be a way for patients to share their opinions and experiences with others in the community. Kristin Baird, from the Baird Group, believes that it is important for hospitals not to discount the importance of tapping in to social media. As she puts it,

“Social media definitely plays into it [HCAHPS scores] because it is the voice of the consumer,” she said. “People pay attention to Yelp and Facebook for others’ opinions. It has an influence on how people make their choices.”

Ultimately, it is the voice of the consumers, and the way they feel about their experiences with a hospital, that dictate how well hospitals score.

Whether it is through signs posted in the hallways of a medical facility, handouts given to patients at the time of hospitalization, or websites used to facilitate follow-up care, excellent written communication is central to improving HCAHPS scores.

Doctors: Take These Words to Heart

By Victoria Cayce


Linda was feeling bad. Really bad. She had been overly tired for a week, but since her kids had just gotten over a bug they picked up at school she assumed that the nausea and fatigue were related and went back to plowing through her busy day. Then her upper back began to ache. The dull pain in her chest was making it hard to breathe and she was sweating. She ignored it and kept on going. Three hours later, Linda was dead at the age of 45.


Remember back in high school when your teacher was telling you that knowing how to diagram a sentence would be important later in life? While a dangling participle is not a likely cause of death, she may have been on to something. Good communication, or the lack of it, is directly linked to the outcomes of cardiac patient care. And that is a matter of life and death.

In the story above, the hypothetical Linda ignores her symptoms because she simply doesn’t know that heart attacks often present differently in females than they do in males. If she had been aware, she would have been more likely to seek emergency treatment that might have saved her life. Sadly, the story of Linda plays out in real life every day.

Leading Cause of Death in Womenbroken_heart-1503 (1)

While more and more people have become aware of the dangers of breast cancer and the need for self-examination, many more women are completely uninformed about their heart health. The case for informing women of the dangers of breast cancer is laudable; however, these same women are at greater risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. According to the Center for Disease Control 1 in 31 women die from some form of cancer each year while one in every four women die from heart disease. The key to improving these numbers is at the local level; healthcare professionals are on the front lines and must do a better job of educating their patients about the risks and symptoms of heart disease in women.

Perceptions are Everything

Studies have shown that the public has a perception that heart attacks happen more frequently in men. The great disconnect for women is not helped by the media, which tends to portray the dramatic “Hollywood heart attack” of someone (often a male) who is gripping their chest before they collapse. In reality, many women experience either no symptoms or a dull pain or discomfort that may radiate to the throat, arm, or jaw.

Medical providers can do a lot to break this myth by simply talking to their patients about the differences and making information more accessible for them. For example, doctors could start by adding a few questions to the forms that new patients fill out regarding their family history of heart disease. They would follow up by briefly explaining the warning signs for female patients.  The questionnaire might include targeted keywords related to the symptoms such as:

  • Have you been feeling excessively tired in the last few weeks?
  • Have you experienced pain in your neck, back or jaw?
  • Have you been having stomach pain?
  • Have you been having chest discomfort or pain?

When patients leave, a nurse, technician, or a member of the office staff could hand them a packet that contains small laminated poster with a magnetized back that can hang on a refrigerator door. Medical offices can also display colorful informational posters that clearly explain things that female patients and their families should know including:

  • How minutes count when someone is having a heart attack
  • How they should give someone with the symptoms of a heart attack an aspirin
  • The differences in male and female heart symptoms

Another reason that female patients tend to press on and ignore heart related symptoms is that they do not feel emotionally comfortable seeking medical care. They may also regard their own symptoms as trivial. Doctors and nurses need to create an environment in which female patients especially feel comfortable reporting their symptoms. To address this issue, medical providers must create an atmosphere of trust.

Open Doors Save Lives

For instance, when discussing issues related to cardiac care, physicians and their staff need to stress the fact that they have an open door policy, and that symptoms should never, ever be ignored. Explaining that it is OK to seek medical care (and that they will not be dismissed out of hand) will go a long way in removing the emotional barriers to care and alleviating fears of being dismissed or labeled a hypochondriac.

Unfortunately, the fear of being labeled may not be that far off of the mark as a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving more than 10,000 cardiac patients (48% were women) demonstrated that females under the age of 55 were seven times more likely to be turned away than male patients while they were actually experiencing a heart attack. The most common misdiagnosis assigned was listed as “anxiety.”

Women Say it Differently

In part, this problem may be related to the fact that women often use different verbal clues to express their symptoms. For instance, female patients are much more likely to complain of “discomfort” while male patients use the word “pain.” When combined with the more subtle symptoms of heart attacks in women, this tendency can easily lead to a misdiagnosis.

Furthermore, in an American Medical Association study that included more than one million patients, females were found to be twice as likely to die while hospitalized when their symptoms (including changes in an EKG) were not expressed in the classic way that males do when experiencing in a heart attack.

Communication is therefore even more critical to providing appropriate care to female patients. Medical providers must go beyond the basics and employ active listening that allow for the inherent differences of male versus female speech patterns and word usage. They must then apply more aggressive treatment strategies when a heart attack is suspected. In other words, they must be willing to dig deeper when females present with less specific and immediate heart related symptoms.

Communicating in a Social World

Marketing campaigns have had a significant impact on breast cancer awareness. The Susan G Komen Foundation, for instance, uses social media, blogs, touching real-life stories and marathons to help raise funds and awareness. Doctors and nurses can use the same approaches to educate women about heart attack symptoms. They can get their message on social media. They can write engaging blog posts with relatable stories and critical information about heart attack symptoms in men and women.  Their posts can include valuable resources, too, including tools for heart health such as the Heart Attack Risk Calculator.

Local health care providers also can incorporate national awareness campaigns into their grassroots efforts. The American Heart Association has created a short film to educate women called Just a Little Heart Attack that is very sharable and could be embedded in social media. Additionally, medical personnel can spread information by holding heart health awareness events that offer free cholesterol checks and heart health screenings. Volunteers could hand out:

  • Red bracelets ( The American Heart Association has designated red as the color for heart awareness)
  • T-shirts with heart health slogans and information
  • Red balloons
  • Memorabilia such as cups, magnets and bumper stickers aimed at increasing awareness

Doctors and hospitals also can team up with professional writers and marketers to create slogans and messages that the public can understand and respond to. They can connect with local news stations to get the word out about events.

Anyone working in a busy practice understands that time is extremely limited. But bolstering medical practice’s heart attack awareness efforts with a social medial campaign, as well as a blog aimed at a lay audience, gives you the ability to get your critical message across to far more people. The point is to get the word out as often and as clearly as possible, and ultimately, to save lives.