Risk Management in the Age of Twitter

October 1, 2009 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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By any reasonable metric, the use of online social media tools is exploding. Facebook boasted 13.9 billion minutes of usage in April 2009—an increase of nearly 700% from the 1.7 billion minutes recorded in April 2008. Even that pales in comparison to the phenomenal growth of Twitter, which experienced a 3,712% increase in minutes of usage during the same time period. (Schroeder)

And it is not just that people are spending more time on these sites—the total number of people using the sites is skyrocketing as well. In April 2009, Facebook had 113 million unique visitors—up 8.5% from 104 million visitors in March—and 1.74 billion hits. Similarly, a total of 16.8 billion videos were viewed on YouTube, Hulu, and other video-sharing sites in the United States during April 2009. (Schroeder)

Consumer use of social networking sites and tools related to healthcare issues—dubbed the ”Health 2.0” movement—is also robust. Consumers use social networking services both as community-building tools (e.g., to discuss with fellow patients issues related to living with a chronic disease) and as research tools (e.g., to seek new clinical knowledge, to seek advice from clinicians). According to one hospital chief executive officer, Facebook features more than 500 discussion groups related to diabetes, more than 35,000 YouTube videos are devoted to some aspect of surgery, and approximately 2,000 images on Flickr are chemotherapy-related (Hawthorne).

Yet healthcare organizations have been slow to follow consumers into this space. Although Ed Bennett, director of Web strategy for the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) (Baltimore), chronicled that 351 U.S. hospitals were using at least one of four predominant social networking tools (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or blogs) as of August 19, 2009 (Bennett “Hospital Social”), he notes that “healthcare is a fairly conservative industry. We sit back and take a look at what other industries are doing and then decide what’s the right tool or right approach for us to take.” Still, he says, “In this case, there’s probably a little bit quicker adoption of...

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