Palo Alto Medical Foundation: a social media success story
I first got to know Erin Macartney, of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, during weekly Twitter chats for the health communication and social media #hcsm community. Since then, we’ve had numerous conversations and I am very impressed by not only what Erin has accomplished with social media but also her personal and professional commitment and passion. She kindly offered to share her organization’s social media strategy. What strikes me is her organization’s commitment to provide information to patients in the mode they wish to receive it – whether it’s through social media channels, traditional communications (patient newsletters and health education mailers), e-newsletters or other communications methods.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) for Health Care, Research and Education is a not-for-profit multispecialty health care provider. PAMF is located in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. With more than 900 affiliated physicians and 4,300 employees, PAMF serves more than 655,000 patients at its medical centers and clinics in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
Q: How does PAMF view social media?
A: We see social media as a natural extension of our two-way patient communications, ongoing conversation, information sharing and patient empowerment. Listening and having discussions helps us to continue to learn and improve upon the quality of our organization’s health programs and services. Having these newer social media tools now available to us gives us another way to connect with people – in a way that they like to receive information – and allows us to hear from them, listen to them and respond more personally and in real-time
Q: What are some keys to communication in health care social media?
Honesty, respect, accuracy, timeliness and trust – to name just a few. Open communication is important – in all directions. When it comes to health news, it is important get your information out as responsibly as possible.
Q: What types of information does your organization share using social media?
A: Using social media, we share health articles and information, organizational news, wellness tips, class and lecture information and registration, physician videos and more. We try to include a variety of things that will appeal to people – whether it is targeted medical news, or a photo album of employees walking to raise money for the March for Dimes’ “March for Babies” event, or pictures and mention of our medical staff offering free breast health information at the Stanford women’s volleyball game during “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” It’s all in there. We try to keep things friendly, informative, fresh and fun – and most of all, helpful.
Q: How does your organization integrate its social media strategy in our overall communications planning and activities?
A: Social media is a key component of health care communications at PAMF. So, over the past few years, we have repurposed many of our traditional communications activities as social media. We see social media activity as seamless with our traditional communications. Hopefully, they work jointly to help bring people health information and connections – in the way they want to receive and use them, so they can be active partners in their own health and health care team.
Q: Which department manages social media at PAMF?
A: The Public Affairs Department coordinates and manages our social media program and we include many other areas of the organization in idea sharing, information gathering and communication planning. We regularly tap into the expertise of our marketing and health education colleagues to broaden our team and reach. Ideally, we’re working towards everyone in the organization all acting socially in a coordinated way. Our goal is to offer useful information to people, to listen to them and have conversations that are meaningful – so we can better meet their health information and communication needs. We are patients too, so we always try to keep that in mind.
Q: In addition to social media, what are some of the traditional communication tools your organization uses to share health information?
A: In addition Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we have a health and wellness newsletter, called “Foundation for Health,” that is mailed to patient and community households. We also produce patient e-newsletters that are delivered to subscribers’ inboxes. E-HealthNews is our largest patient e-newsletter with 75,000 e-mail subscribers. We also have a parenting e-newsletter and a South Asian Health e-newsletter that are delivered via e-mail subscription. Our “Community Highlights” mailer includes free health event and lecture information available at our different locations.
We try to combine traditional and online opportunities. Therefore, the PAMF health events and lectures are posted online on the website home page, health education website and promoted on Facebook and Twitter. People can also register for classes and events online via our website and Facebook page. Lectures and events are free and open to the community.