Health Care 3.0

Health Care Trends With a Social Media Twist

Social Media Q&A with Tufts Medical Center’s Tim Brennan

By Palmer Reuther


I had an opportunity recently to interview Tim Brennan, the Public Affairs and Communications Manager at Tufts Medical Center (Tufts MC). Tufts MC is a world-class academic medical center in Boston, home to both a full-service hospital for adults and Floating Hospital for Children. It is the principal teaching hospital for Tufts University School of Medicine.


In just three years, Tim has done an outstanding job of building the way Tufts MC and Floating Hospital for Children uses social media to communicate to both internal and external audiences. I was excited to learn how Tim has evolved the social media program to where it is today.


HC3.0: Tim, how would you describe your role at Tufts MC and how has social media help to define the work you’re doing today?


TB: As Public Affairs and Communications Manager at Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children, I am responsible for marketing strategy and marketing communications for both hospitals’ service lines. My role includes implementing the usual traditional methods of hospital marketing such as TV, print, radio and online ads, but now that social media has entered the marketing mix and is growing exponentially, I oversee these efforts for both Tufts MC and Floating Hospital.


We utilize our social media outlets to create engagement with those who follow us or who are “fans” of the hospital. Not only can we let our audiences know what is going on within our hospital or provide educational content about various diseases/conditions, but we are also able to listen to what people have to say about the services we offer. For example, it’s not uncommon that an inpatient leaves a post on our Facebook page to let their doctors and nursing team know that they saved their life and how appreciative they are of the care they received. These appreciative patients and their families become our brand ambassadors and we greatly value them.


Because we are an academic medical center – we are the principal teaching hospital for Tufts University School of Medicine – we have an extensive research program. The scientific advances taking place in our labs are extraordinary and a large part of our audience may not know that.  We now utilize our social media efforts to share some of these new advances with the public and other related industry groups. Doing this has greatly improved the awareness of the cutting-edge research we are doing and how we are bringing bench research directly to the bed-side.


HC3.0: When you started, what were your priorities and goals for Tufts MC and did social media help you accomplish them?


TB: When we started, we really wanted to use it as a listening tool. And I think that was a wise choice knowing what we know about social media today.  We learned that consumers are hungry for medical information on the Web and we wanted to make finding some of that information easier. In early 2009, we launched our website as a resource for consumers and promoted by a comprehensive online and offline marketing plan. It features videos of our specialists providing helpful information on common diseases and conditions, with the ability for consumers to make an appointment online. This website resource allows consumers to share the videos with friends/family/colleagues on their social media platforms – so it made sense to get involved in social media. We recognized and embraced the “e-patient” – those that take to the Internet to do their own research or are seeking a second opinion. The health care content on the Web is abundant, but a lot of it is inaccurate, hard to find and not localized. We wanted to provide a resource for consumers to view and share accurate medical information coming directly from our physicians.


The resource was the catalyst to our implementation of social media. We talked about it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, and linked to our YouTube channel. Other websites with video content began to notice and linked to our videos. And this is what we wanted, for it to go viral. From there, we began to build more of a social media presence around research, news happenings, patient experiences, new offerings, etc.


HC3.0:Delivering the best patient care is the top priority for Tufts MC. Has social media extended the ability to deliver care to the patients through digital channels?


TB: While the Internet is a great place to provide health information, it will never substitute for a personal health assessment or appointment with a physician. We don’t provide a diagnosis online, we provide information instead that helps patients, family and friends understand health conditions and then make important decisions with their physicians. I would say that just alerting people to the many great services here at Tufts MC via social media has extended our reach and made people aware of the excellent work happening here that may not have known of us before. We also have our fans and friends to thank for spreading the word in so many ways.


HC3.0: I see that @TuftsMedicalCtr has more than 2,300 followers on Twitter. What social media tools have you found to be the most effective for the hospital and why?    


TB: At this time, we really utilize five main social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, FourSquare, and LinkedIn. By far, Facebook and Twitter are the most effective social media platforms because of the ability to engage consumers, but they are effective for different reasons.

Facebook is excellent for engaging the consumer. Tufts Medical Center has more than 1,500 fans and Floating Hospital for Children has more than 1,400 fans. These two Facebook pages have become little communities where past and present patients, along with their family and friends interact and share stories/experiences.


Twitter’s audience is slightly different because of its diversity. There are groups, non-profit associations, nurses, doctors and other industry professionals utilizing this platform.  They are most interested in hearing news-related information. We tend to use Twitter to target content specific to these users, such as research related information or other health care-related news that these users would find informative.


We have 2000+ Twitter followers because we use Twitter effectively.  Too many Twitter users use the platform like a Facebook status update. I’m not interested in replying “Polo” when a twitter user tweets “Marco.” People tune you out when you tweet meaningless chatter.


HC3.0: What does the future hold for the way Tufts MC uses social media?


TB: We will certainly continue to enhance and expand our social media presence and further incorporate it into both our internal and external communications. We also plan to better integrate social media into our websites.


We look forward to checking back on Tim's progress with social media for Tufts MC.

-Palmer Reuther-

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