What We Can Learn from Two of NYC’s Best Hospitals

Oct. 28, 2013
Mount Sinai Hospital and the Hospital for Special Surgery, only separated by two Manhattan miles, have both found ways to use social media. Both providers, specifically, are using Facebook to inform, inspire, and educate patients, and they’re doing it without violating HIPAA.

This week, I read a great article in the Social Times (ST) about what Mount Sinai Hospital is doing with social media. The New York City-based provider truly is walking the fine line that providers have struggled with when it comes to engaging patients on social networks, specifically Facebook.

John Ambrose, the system’s social media director, spoke with ST about how the organization shares patient’s stories while still adhering to the privacy regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The social media team at Mount Sinai works with the legal team, Ambrose told ST, to ensure everything is, as they say, kosher.

The article then detailed three difference examples where social media helped Mount Sinai engage and educate patients. It happened when they promoted a free skin cancer screening and had a line out the door at the dermatology department. It happened when they shared information on “cancer-proofing” the home, and connected with people and when they updated people with tips and resources during Hurricane Sandy.

After reading the article, I had to see the Mount Sinai Facebook page for myself. Not surprisingly, it was more of the same. In the last three days, the team has promoted articles on preventing kidney stones, shared a story on the babies that were born during Sandy, and advertised a $15 flu shot promotion. If you look at one of Mount Sinai’s 50 other social media accounts, I’d assume you’d find similar content, and there’s not a HIPAA no-no in sight as far as I can tell.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the perils of social media in healthcare. I’ve written about it before. HIPAA and patient privacy is the “elephant in the room.” For patients too, there are certainly reasons to stay clear of tweeting out your clinical problems. Check out this article on NBC News, about a doctor spying on a patient’s Twitter to make a clinical decision, for an intriguing example of what I’m talking about.

Perils aside though, I’m encouraged when I see what the Mount Sinais of the world are doing. I’m encouraged when I see the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), which is Sinai’s neighbor in Manhattan, engaging patients with complex diseases on Facebook.

In a recent study, researchers at HSS used Facebook chats to raise awareness of lupus, an autoimmune disease. The hospital teamed with a community-based lupus organization, S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, to publicize the chat, and subsequently tripled the number of participants. It went from 2,280 users and 60 questions in May 2012 to 6,624 people and 162 questions. According to the Lupus Center of Excellence at Special Surgery, the Facebook chats raised awareness, helped them reach a wider audience, and perhaps most importantly, allowed for interaction between patients and providers.

“The Facebook chats provide a new venue to get information from rheumatologists and other health professionals who understand this complex disease. Lupus patients are hungry for information, and with social media, we can address their specific concerns in real time,” Jane Salmon, M.D., director of the Lupus Center of Excellence and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

HSS and Mount Sinai have found ways to make social media work for them. As someone who lives in the great city of New York, I know firsthand that these are two of the best hospitals in the city, even the country. So it’s not surprising to see them setting an example in this area.

I can only hope that others follow suit.

I would love to hear your providers’ strategy for social media, or if you even have one? Is this an area that you’re figuring out or have you figured it out? Feel free to write something in the comments below or tweet me at @HCI_GPerna.

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