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11. Case Study: Hospitals

Hospitals Using Twitter

By Anita Beninger


“There was a process that we worked thru. We really didn’t ask for any special permission to be on Twitter, we just did it. We were already in the process of getting podcasts, blogs and other things going. I would not say it was resistance… it was more like well let’s make the case for why we should do this. The discussion about the use of social media opened right up and here we are .” –Interview with Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic, Manager of syndication and social media

The quote above describes a bottom up approach being used by many hospitals utilizing social media today. It begins with the creation of a marketplace, a place where people can engage in conversation.

The operation of a hospital in similar to a small community. Doctors and nurses care directly for sick patients while other employee’s work in the laboratory, cafeteria or laundry. Health care is collaborative; it takes many different people, services and streams of communication to care for just a single patient. But hospitals have been slow to adopt newer communication channels that reach out to members of their own community.

According to a research study called The Pew Internet & Life Project, 61% of adults get health information on line. (1) If we agree that people within our communities are searching for credible medical information, shouldn’t the medical community be the source? With more than 5,000 hospitals operating nationwide,why are so few embracing social media platforms like Twitter?

In this chapter I will discuss the ways hospitals are tweeting about the industry, show examples of current use and make the case for why more people in health care should be adding tweets to their medical kits.

Background and Methodology

With marketing budgets limited some hospitals are picking Twitter as their first choice for social media participation. From small community hospitals to larger research focused institutions, Twitter is an equally useful tool. According to Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Media List updated on 8/09/2009, Twitter is being used by 253 hospitals nationwide. By following web 2.0 health care leaders, researching websites, blogs and using tools such like TweetStats, Twitter People Search and TwitterCounter; I located a grouping of hospitals using Twitter. Reading tweets, conducting interviews and evaluating profiles provided a deeper look into the world of hospitals tweeting.

Chapter Outline

1. Tweet with a doc


2. Tweeting like a surgeon



3. Hearing aids


4. Tweeting in a Crisis


How Is Twitter Used In This Sector?

This chapter explores hospitals using Twitter for medical information,research, communication, education and for marketing purposes.

Tweet A Doc

Mayo Clinic Neurologist Ron Petersen taking your questions on Alzheimer’s. Tweet to #mayoradio or call 507-282-1234 7:30 AM Aug 22nd from CoTweet

Mayoclinic @chrislbs thanks for your Alzheimer’s question. We’ll get it answered on #mayoradio

Your mother has been missing appointments and forgetting things. Instead of addressing your concerns about her memory tomorrow, tweet a doctor about them today.

Mayo Clinic offers a weekly radio program called Medical Edge Radio .

The show focuses on a wide variety of topics including medical conditions, health care policy and treatments available. Anyone can follow the shows stream on Twitter, get answers to their questions and learn new health information.

For Mayo Clinic’s Manager of Syndications and Social Media; Lee Aase, using Twitter is not new. Mayo started using blogs in 2005 followed by social media channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

“We look at the four basic food groups so to speak. The first would be Twitter for micro messaging the second would be Facebook for social networking, the third YouTube and lastly blogs. “A year and a half ago we started with one Twitter account and now we have three he said.” (2) The Mayo Clinic accounts include: Mayo Clinic,

Mayo Health Care Policy and Mayo Clinic Jobs.

Some other examples of how Mayo Clinic is using Twitter include tweets for promotion and discussion. During Medical Edge, Twitter offers an additional way to communicate with a doctor. ” We invite people to submit their questions as tweets using the Mayo Radio hashtag (#mayoradio) and then again during the radio show as the discussion is going on said Aase.”(2)


Medical Edge started out locally in Rochester, Minnesota but the broadcast has recently expanded to reach a broader market of listeners.

People tune into the program to learn about the topics and contact medical professionals. ” It is a two way thing, last week we had questions from Phoenix, Utah and Philadelphia. said Aase”.(2)

During a typical day on the Mayo Clinic Twitter site five tweets take place but up to twenty can occur during the Mayo Radio show.

Many of the tweets analyzed were informational in nature but there were also many at replies, suggesting interaction a Twitter best practice showing reciprocal communication.

Why should someone follow Mayo Clinic on Twitter? “It is a great place for people who are interested in medical news, information, health care reform or links to patient stories, it is a hub for our other social media platforms he said.” (2)

A lot of people are already taking Lee’s advice. In July Mayo Clinic had more that 5,000 people following their Twitter account. During the month of September that number had reached to over 7,000 followers.

By sharing social media resources and modeling best practices, Mayo Clinic has shown to be a health care leader using social media. Today if you can’t learn from Lee Aase in person you can read the articles located on the Sharing Mayo blog or participate in the free Social Media University Global (SMUG) courses.

Tweet Camp is yet another example of how Mayo Clinic is spreading the word about social media, not just to their followers and employees but also to anyone who is motivated and wants to learn.

Tweeting like a surgeon

@ChildrensMercy Tulgovski here from Mongolia. Hope the surgery goes well. I’ll be following :) 2:14 AM Jul 7th from web in reply to ChildrensMercy

@Tulgovski Surgery is going well so far. Thanks for following all the way from Mongolia. – Children’s Mercy 2:04 PM Jul 7thfrom web in reply to Tulgovski

Our patient is in good condition this afternoon and is resting after his tissue expansion surgery. Thx for following as we tweeted. -Children’s Mercy 12:21 PM Jul 8th from web

A mother wants to share surgery information with family members in Mongolia. The usual suggestion, wait for updates from the operating room to pass along to Mongolia. Today in some hospitals there is a new option. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring ask the patients family to follow the surgery updates on Twitter.(3)

Children’s Mercy hospital in Kansas City, Missouri specializes in the care of very sick children. The hospital is using Twitter in a variety of different ways to meet the growing needs of their young patients and families. The Chief of Plastic Surgery Viirender Singhal, MD performed a surgery to fix a young boy’s skin. During the surgery his parents followed along on Twitter. His mother was reading the tweets from the hospital waiting room while his father was following along in Mongolia. “Even the surgeon, who was initially skeptical about the idea, found that dictating the Twitter updates in real time was easier than taking phone calls from nurses to update the family on the boy’s condition.” said Sherry D. Gibbs Children’s Mercy public information officer. (4)

Another way the hospital is using Twitter is to offer storytelling and educational opportunities for patients and their families.

One storyteller is Shari Flanagan;her daughter Caity has a medical condition called Crohn’s. (5)

Using Twitter helped Shari and her daughter speak with an authentic voice sharing with others their knowledge and experiences about the disease.

I hope my tweets help other families preparing for surgery. 11:42 AM Aug 12th from web -Shari Flanagan

By following Shari Flanagan’s tweets I learned about Crohn’s and her experiences with the hospital. Flanagan tweeted before, during and after her 13-year old daughter’s surgery. Some of her tweets highlighted details about the disease, her fears about the surgery and gratitude for the surgical staff. Children’s Mercy originally started using Twitter as a way to give parents surgery information and now is using the tool for education. Twitter defines the importance of stories in health care and Children’s Mercy is using the channel is great new way.

Surgery has begun: Dr. Gianitsos and Dr. Kaveggia have the ports in place and the da Vinci is docked. #mercydavinci -TSabout 1 hour ago from HootSuite

Hospitals are using Twitter for communication, resource development and for event promotion.

Suppose that your hospital has a new robot and you want to showcase this new tool. You could go the traditional route and send out press releases or print ads but why not instead run your campaign using twitter.

From following Mercy Hospital on Twitter I learned about their proposed Twitter surgery. I was able to follow the surgery, review updates and video’s of the procedure. Trisha Skram from Mercy Hospital shared her expierences with me about the planning process.

Skram manages the Twitter account for Mercy Hospital and is a member of the marketing team that participated in the event.

“The idea of Twitter surgery was originally something to be launched with a bariatric (weight loss) surgery. But when our marketing team found out about the da Vinci robot, the entire social media team thought this was a prime opportunity to use Twitter during the surgery,” said Skram.(6)


The use of twitter for Mercy Hospital’s promotion was carefully crafted. During the event the hashtag #mercydavinci was used to categorize the tweets. ” The organization planned extensively prior to hosting a live surgery on Twitter. Before the surgery we had a fully comprehensive plan that incorporated all social networking, integrated marketing, advertising, PR and media relations,“ she said.(6)

Skram did the tweeting and other employees of Mercy Health System and their followers did the promotion. ” The story was picked up by local television, radio and print media,” said Skram.(6)

Mercy also uses Twitter for promotion of events, employee highlights and services that the hospital provides. One of the goals of using twitter identified in the overall marketing strategy was to reach new audiences.

In June the twitter account had more that 1,300 followers by September that number has reached to more than 1,900.

Hearing aids

The University of Maryland Medical Center provides comprehensive care for the West Baltimore community and tertiary care for Maryland and the surrounding area.

@UMMC hello! any websites you can recommend to help nursing like me to learn easier? 1:57 AM Jun 19th from web in reply to UMMC– mhizty

@mhizty Here is some nursing content on our site you might be interested in: 10:04 AM Jun 19th from web in reply to mhizty -UMMC

It’s not all just about surgery or radio shows, hospitals are using Twitter to listen. The University of Maryland Medical Center is very involved with Twitter. They manage more accounts than any of the other hospitals I researched.

Chris Lindsley manages 11 different Twitter accounts for the Medical Center, each account separated by service area.

The accounts include: UMMC, UMMCChildren,UMGCC, UMMCWomens, UMMCWeightloss, UMMCOrtho, UMMCHeart,UMMCMitc,

UMMCParkinsons, UMMCRoboticSurg, UMMCTransplant.

Unlike websites Twitter is dynamic content; allowing users the ability to participate and contribute to the medium. Users post comments and responses to a blog post. Most of the time the comments are positive but an organization should have a strategy in place to track and respond to negative comments.

“The bigger risk is not being engaged, not knowing what’s going on, putting your head in the sand,” Lindsley says. (7)

The University of Maryland Medical Center is using Twitter to share hospital programs, community events, health information and clinical trials. “We want to be engaged. We want to know what’s being said about us. And we want to be able to react to that,” he says. (7)

Maintaining different accounts allows for tweets to be directed to a specific area like weight loss or heart care. You can reach out to specific groups of people who are only interested in that particular service.

Followers of the weight account get tweets that are weight specific. They might include diet, exercise or surgery programs for weight loss. Each account can be monitored separately for comments, questions or complaints.

Along with maintaining the different accounts the medical center also shows account transparency. On all of the Twitter accounts Chris’s name and contact information is clearly listed. Transparency and listening are considered Twitter best practices.

Code Twitter

Several employees were exposed to chemical fumes at a trash disposal station. The incident left two employees unconsciousness and in critical condition. More than 50 people were sent to local hospitals for treatment.

Statement on condition of victims from New Bedford haz-mat situation … 1 p.m. update AM Aug 3rdfrom Tweetie

If you distribute crisis communications for an organization, information is usually provided by phone or press release. Today many local media outlets are using Twitter to gather news stories and facts. Twitter offers an additional way for organizations to control the delivery of information and resources.

For more than a week in August, Southcoast Hospital used Twitter as a crisis communication portal. During the crisis Southcoast tweeted daily status updates on the patients admitted, discharged and/or treated during the hazardous materials spill in the area.(7)

Final update on condition of victims from New Bedford haz-mat situation … last patient released today PM Aug 12thfrom Tweetie

Tweets also contained information and links to phone numbers and other important hospital information. From the 100 tweets analyzed more that 50% contained hashtags, links to media releases, news coverage and the hospitals website.

Southcoast Hospital is using Twitter in innovative ways, delivering timed information to multiple audiences.


Social media is changing the way people communicate and discuss health related information. Anyone on Twitter can monitor health topics and trends such as the swine flu. In real time they can follow organizations like the Center for Disease Control (@CDCFlu ) for pandemic updates and resources. Hospitals can also benefit by following each other for health care information and collaboration.

The future of Twitter is unknown. What can be seen is the ability for programs like it to bring people, places and events together. Hospitals currently using Twitter are already modeling real time communication and information strategies. Hospitals tweeting today have the ability to support the growth of social media use in the future at local, national and global levels.















Author: Anita Beninger

End notes

(1) Susannah Fox and Sydney Jones (2009, July 11)The Social Life of Health Information The Pew Research Centers Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

(2) Anita Beninger (2009, August 28) Mayo Clinic An Interview with Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic Retrieved from

(3)WECT Life watch: Using twitter during surgery Posted: Jul 10, 2009 10:18 AM Reported by Claire Hosmann Posted by Debra Worley - zzztwitter-070709,0,1140546.story

(4) Tara Parker-Pope, (2009, July 9,). Tweeting From The Operating Room. Message posted to New York Times Health Bog

(5) Kevin Wright, (2009, Aug 11). Teenager Fights Against Crohn’s Disease. Kansas Retrieved from

(6) Anita Beninger (2009, July 6) @MercyHealth An email Interview with Tricia Skram Retrieved from

(7) Kevin Wright, (2009, Aug 11). Teenager Fights Against Crohn’s Disease. Kansas Retrieved from

(6) Gienna Shaw, (2009, July 29). Marketing: Are Social Media’s Rewards worth the risks? Message posted to:

(7) By Jack Nicas and Michaela Stanelun,(2009, Aug 3) Globe Correspondents: At Least 100 treated after gas release at New Bedford waste firm. Retrieved from

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