Time to Re-think Hospital Social Media Adoption

The latest Hospital Social Media update is live. We are currently at 557 Health System / Hospitals /  Centers with 1090 social media listings:

  • 254 YouTube Channels
  • 336 Facebook pages
  • 430 Twitter Accounts
  • 70 Blogs

I’ve dug into the data and found some interesting results. The Social Media adoption rate is heavily skewed to larger hospitals. This graph shows a breakdown of hospitals by bed count:

The Social Media adoption numbers come from the 460 hospitals on my list that have publicly available bed counts. The U.S. bed count data is based on information from the 2010 Billian’s Health Data Blue book, and public data from the 2002 AHA survey. The total number of U.S. hospitals and bed count breakdown were remarkably close from both sources.

The disparity should not be a surprise. Smaller hospitals, like those with less than 100 beds, have less resources to invest in most outward facing services. There’s usually only one person responsible for everything – marketing, public affairs, media relations, web development, philanthropy, etc. No wonder social media isn’t a priority.  In fact only 14% (65) of the hospitals on my list have less than 100 beds, and 86% (395) have more than 100.

So let’s do the math. Assume there are 6,000 US hospitals.

50% of them have less than 100 beds, so that leaves 3,000 viable hospitals

But don’t forget that social media is blocked at many hospitals. I don’t have solid numbers, but a 50% block rate feels right. I don’t expect employees to work from home in order to maintain their employers Social Media presence (though some do),  so we are now at 1,500 hospitals.

In addition to the 395 distinct 100+ bed hospitals on my list, there are 82 Health Care Systems doing centralized social media. Let’s take a very conservative average of 5 hospitals per system. That equals another 410 hospitals in the social media space.

We are now at 805  hospitals out of 1,500 doing some sort of social media.

That’s a 53% adoption rate.

Not bad for a conservative industry like health care.

Of course we can do better, (opening up access is our biggest hurdle) – but I think it’s time to stop beating up on our industry.

Feedback is welcome, I encourage you to download the raw data and do your own analysis. Folks that find basic flaws in my numbers or logic are encouraged to contact me – I want to hear from you.

People that nit-pick irrelevant details or misuse this data will be ignored.

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29 Responses to Time to Re-think Hospital Social Media Adoption

  1. Loved this post Ed. Your observations are very telling. We need to sell the benefits of social media and development of loyal relationships with the communities we serve. Those loyal relationships will help drive business to the hospital(s).

    Hospitals are facing some very real challenges – Medicaid cutbacks are going to be severe in many states due to tax shortfalls – ongoing Medicare cutbacks coupled with an ongoing 8% to 12% decrease in inpatient and outpatient volumes are creating revenue shortfalls that some may not recover from.

    I’m not saying social media is the answer – but it’s certainly part of the cure. If patients aren’t utilizing services now due to economy/lack of insurance they will/may in the future. Let’s cultivate those relationships now – solve issues for patients that are in the hospital now but not happy, be an online resource/friendly voice for those that need a healthcare home.

    We’ve been involved with social media now for nearly a year. What an amazing year it’s been. The stories are remarkable. People WILL find a way to connect to you – why not reach out and connect with them first? Do it! You won’t be sorry.

    Appreciate your steady, fact based posts.

    • Ed Bennett says:

      Brenda – In the scheme of things, Social Media is just one small element for a hospital to manage. But, being open to new ideas and a willingness to engage with our patients / customers in this space will be a success factor. We can’t afford to be afraid or avoid using these tools, not in the current economic climate.

      • Amen to that. One of the reasons we entered fairly early was due, in part, to the economy. We’re singing harmony here to be sure.

        • Ami says:

           Early adoption rates are very good. Is there a mechanism in place to capture these new ideas/suggestions and a process in place to continue engaging with the patients in this space?

  2. Mike Cadogan says:

    Great work Ed
    Natural progression from your original article series allows me to see where Australia will probably be in the next 12 months – you are my crystal ball!
    I agree, there are many platforms to start engagement….so let’s get the conversation started.

  3. Liza Sisler says:

    This is good information Ed. I think that Health Social Media can play a key role in Community outreach especially as part of an integrated patient portal. Serving patient/consumers health, wellness, fitness, coaching & community support information on an opt-in basis based on information gathered through their dealings with their providers could become a key differentiator in allowing hospitals to build enduring relationships with their patients. Technology can enable & enhance people’s natural desire to connect with each other. It will be fun watching & working towards growth in this space!

  4. Ed,
    I’ve heard from a few different hospitals who allow their staff access to social media sites that they might cut it because “those social sites are taking up too much bandwidth”! That’s right. The complaint isn’t that they’re not working, but rather that they’re clogging things. Indeed, these are IT people, so all of us work in their domain — literally. But how much harm can we cause? It’s possible that IT wanted it cut to begin with just like so many hospitals, but Marketing won out, saying it’s part of the job. So now they found a new way to get to the goal — blame it on bandwidth.
    We have to keep plugging every day.

  5. Hi Ed,
    Great post, thanks! This is very interesting information. Incidentally, I recently attended a convention of hospital recruiters in GA, which included small and mid-sized hospitals. All of them are interested in utilizing social media, particularly as part of a recruiting strategy, but cannot get buy-in from the “powers-that-be”. Not one of the hospitals in attendance were actively using social media, at least not from a recruiting standpoint, if at all. (This was a very small group however, of only about 10 hospitals in GA, and none were from Atlanta, although a few were from mid-size metro areas in the state). All of the recruiters present are very interested, and looking for creative ways to get the buy-in – I think (and hope) we’ll find that this percentage of hospitals will increase even further in coming months, to include small hospitals.

    Out of curiosity, do you by any chance know how many of the hospitals on your SocMed list are using their social media presence as part of their recruiting strategy, in addition to utilizing social media to market to consumers? (patients?) I would be very interested to know!

    Andrea Santiago
    Guide to Health Careers – About.com
    Director of Communications – The Medicus Firm

    • Ed Bennett says:


      Most hospital social media recruiting efforts are run by marketing firms. This is a specialized area, and in the short term probably makes sense. Eventually, I expect to see them move in-house

  6. Dan Dunlop says:

    Excellent post! I agree, not bad for a conservative industry. And what was the alternative? Rushing in with little thought or strategic direction? I prefer the look before you leap approach.

    • Ed Bennett says:


      No, the alternative is to try it. Slowly, carefully and with the goal to engage and respond. It’s not difficult to do, and it doesn’t require a 100-page strategic plan or major investment. Just the courage to try something new.


  7. Loretta Donovan says:

    Most of the attention that social media is getting in healthcare involved an external focus on patients, the general public or job candidates. The power of social media to create internal relationships and collective knowledge is being overlooked.

    • Ed Bennett says:

      I don’t think it’s overlooked, it just faces more internal obstacles. Most of the hospital communications people I speak with appreciate the power of internal social media tools, but the proper groundwork has to be created before they can be used.

  8. Atul Singh says:

    I am thinking aloud here and trying to capture my thoughts on the keyboard…
    One thing is for sure that given the power of social media and the need for patient engagement at various levels, the question is “when and how” rather than “whether or not” social media will become big for the healthcare industry. At a more sophisticated level, we might want to answer what is it that we want to achieve through social media and (more importantly) what is it that should better be left out of it. It is this gray area (and the risks of hitting the wrong buttons) that is probably keeping healthcare organizations from taking it up in a big way. I agree with Ed that a slow and careful approach to engage and respond is the best way forward, lest we do an overkill. A discussion on this, and especially on what could be its pitfalls will bring some more clarity to the use of social media in healthcare. For starters, I think the sheer power of social media will make it difficult (and important) that exchange of opinions/experiences among the members does not take the form of pseudo-prescription or self medication.


    • Ed Bennett says:

      Good points – an appropriate short term goal is to be available for conversations, offer help, answer questions etc. When a community gets larger, management becomes complex. Certain areas may run themselves, but usually some oversight will be needed. The Slashdot approach to community self-management is also an option, but I haven’t seen a hospital social media presence active enough to require it. (yet)

      • Atul Singh says:

        Another reason that social media has not yet made its place is the lack of clarity about where is the money to be made through the use of social media in healthcare…how will/can it translate into $’s for businesses (hospitals, healthcare organizations, etc)? Is it all going to be indirect benefits of reaching out to the patients and building relationships OR are there any direct revenue streams through active services (such as patient consulting, monitoring, alert mechanisms, etc.)? The answer to the question “What is is that we really want to achieve through the use of social media in healthcare?” would likely point to the possibilities, the feasibility, and the profitability of the whole idea.


        • Ed Bennett says:

          I agree – Hospitals that only consider social media if a direct profit can be assured shouldn’t bother – there will never be a clear ROI.
          Hospitals that can see the benefit of improved customer service, brand monitoring, faster communications, word of mouth marketing, and other outcomes will step up and get engaged.

  9. caroline says:

    hi Ed,
    so glad to have found you as a resource. I work with a client, a county-run hospital and they are wanting to get into the social media world. Do you have any statistics showing the difference between private and county run hospitals that are currently using social media? just curious. obviously time and budget play a huge role here!
    thx just started to follow you too!

  10. Dori Pitzner says:

    Hi, Ed.
    Your blog is great and this post is very topical. We’re working with a regional healthcare system and encountering strong resistance to opening social networks to employees. I see IT-related bandwidth cited here, as well as productivity. We are hearing privacy and compliance concerns more than those issues.

    My question is this: How do hospitals who allow open use of social networks (and I’m guessing general Internet access) for employees ensure that no HIPAA violations occur? Having a sound social media policy does not in itself assure this, nor does it implicitly protect employees from making an error in judgment.

    Thanks for any insights.

    • Ed Bennett says:

      No process can ensure 100% compliance.

      It comes down to a risk / reward question: do the benefits of social media use outweigh the relatively small risks? Of course we have to set guidelines, and have education in place before opening up access, but at some point you have to trust your employees to use good judgment and make the right decisions. We trust them to use fax machines, send emails and make phone calls to the outside world – how is the use of social media different?

      • Atul Singh says:


        I agree and disagree in part: No doubt that no process can ensure 100% compliance and even with well defined guidelines and extensive education/training, at the end it is all left to the good judgment and use by the individuals. However, the use of social media is/will be different from the use of fax machines/emails/phone calls. The latter are forms of one-to-one communication where the influencing power of these means is only as strong as the influencing power of the individuals using such means. Most often, in such means, you influence or get influenced by an individual AND moreover, you can be selective about who can influence you (for example, patient-doctor communication with the patient giving the right to the doctor to influence the patient’s actions through doctor’s opinion).

        Social media on the other hand brings with it the power of numbers and the dangers of majority opinion being misinterpreted as the correct thing to do. It also poses the dangers of some random opinion being considered the correct (or the recommended) thing to do just because it is expressed in a “convincing” manner from a “trustworthy” platform. Moreover, it takes away from you the right to decide who (and how many) can influence your decisions, because by very definition, it is a “social” media. Privacy issues will also add to the complexity.

        And therefore, the risks will not be “small”. It can be argued that the owner of such a healthcare social media will only be providing the platform and the users will be themselves responsible for how they use the content and opinions expressed therein. However, lawsuits (and the associated costs and bad publicity) are a distinct possibility. If subject matter experts (doctors/specialists) are given the tasks of constantly monitoring and managing the social media, then it will substantially increase its cost and will put a question mark on the ROI.

        It is more complex than it appears…


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  15. Cathy says:

    Hi Ed,
    I work in our hospital’s IT department and I would love to see us open up to a Facebook and Twitter account.  However with the new mandate to convert to EMR (electronic medical records), security is getting tighter and tighter; understandably.

    I would love to know how your survey results have changed since February of 2010 when it looks like the data was originally posted (unless I missed something – apologies).   If large hospitals are still jumping onboard with their Social Presence, how are they ensuring security?



  16. Mandikhall says:

    Hey Ed,
    I am a PhD student at the University of Florida and taking a social media and health class. Currently I am conducting a literature review looking at social media use in healthcare  (hospitals, clinics, etc.). I just read an article that mentioned your blog site, love it! Any chance you could direct me to any studies conducted on healthcare and social media use for health promotion? I found one study that stated a 90% use of social media for health promotion of  the hospitals that utilized social media platforms, wondering what types of health issues and messages they are using. Any help would be very appreciated. Thanks so much!!! 🙂 Mandi

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