Hospitals' biggest fear: social media and HAIs

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Hospitals' biggest fear: social media and HAIs

June 01, 2016
Thom Wellington
From the May 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Thom Wellington

No matter how hard you work at excellence, one mistake can be amplified on social media and take you down. Today, there are more devices connected to the Internet than the number of humans on earth. It seems that a communication device is always within reach, and people are eager to share both good and bad stories with anyone who will listen.

Social media is the collective of online communication channels dedicated to community- based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration, including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and health care-specific platforms such as HealthGrades. Social media is word-of-mouth on steroids. Stories that used to take years to reach large audiences now can go viral in mere seconds. It is expected that one-third of hospitals open today will close by 2020 due to poor customer service, low patient satisfaction scores and greater transparency of hospital performance. Hospital records are more easily available as a result of high readmission numbers and increased infection rates. As stories disseminate, damage can occur quickly. For example:

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An elderly father lies in his bed on the fifth floor of a hospital’s intensive care unit receiving care after having a complicated surgery. While being treated, construction workers are two floors above him repairing drywall. The father quickly recovers and is sent home to get some rest. Weeks later, the same man is readmitted to the hospital for an unexplained infection. His daughter posted her dismay on social media when she found out her father developed a fatal infection from mishandled treatment at a health care facility. She complained to the medical staff at the facility and also started sending messages to her family members on social media. The posts included a photo of her father’s wounds and how disgruntled she was at the hospital. Other people saw these posts online and added their own complaints about the hospital — for everything from bad nursing to inaccurate billing. And so the hospital’s reputation was damaged on several levels, due to one lady unleashing her anger concerning her father’s care for the world to see.

Repercussions similar to this can happen to any health care provider if a potentially life-threatening situation is not handled properly and efficiently. When a negative experience or unfriendly diagnosis presents itself, such as getting a health care-acquired infection (HAI), patients and family members are typically quick to spread the news on a multitude of sites. As information leaks out about patient HAIs, it can have a sudden negative financial impact on the hospital. Before social media, hospitals were able to settle cases and include a quiet clause that required the plaintiff to not discuss the case or the settled outcome.

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