Working through New Technology Challenges

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014 18:42

Can poor communications be costly? A recent survey found the average U.S. hospital loses $1.7 million a year due to poor communication and coordination between staff members, and that these communication problems may be costing hospitals nationwide up to $11 billion. While social media can be powerful ways to improve communications, not everyone is comfortable or prepared to use them. Easing fears and having the right policies in place can help minimize challenges.

 

Older people, who are the largest and most regular group of users of healthcare systems, are getting used to social media. In fact, the number of adults who use social networks is up 72 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Older adults are utilizing them to keep up with family and friends. Now they are branching out into health care and business matters.  Whether they are patients, physicians or nurses, you can help make the transition a little easier.

First, it’s important to understand their points of view. Research shows perceived usefulness is a key predicting factor in social media usage. When older adults feel that social networking sites are useful, they are more likely to learn and interact with them. They don’t’ want a sales pitch; they want to be able to accomplish basic tasks.  Learning to use the site has to ultimately be more beneficial than not using it.

A second factor is perceived ease of use, especially when it comes to getting the website to do what was needed. Can the patient easily find office hours, how to pre-register or health information about his/her disease? Other important factors are social pressures to use as well as trust of the social networking sites. Are their families, peers and health care providers encouraging them to use the sites? Do those they trust, trust the site?

Thus, it is important to emphasize how useful and easy it is to use your website, patient portal or social media channels to older adults, whether they are physicians, employees or patients. It is also critical to mention the privacy and security of information shared. These steps can easily be taken in brochures, in verbal conversations during a visit and on the sites themselves.

In order to ensure privacy and security, every health care organization should have a social media policy which articulates standards based on HIPAA and labor laws. Policies should also prohibit posts that reflect poorly on the practice or hospital, which is vague enough to allow senior management to make customized decisions.  At the same time, you should also explain why such a policy is important to patient trust. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers social media guidelines (http://www.hhs.gov/web/socialmedia/).

Once you can help curb fears, technological adaption among older adults can increase, thus help support your efforts to support health care quality and reach more patients.