A week’s worth of Twitter

I’m a total Facebook addict so when colleagues told me that Twitter was twice as good as Facebook, I didn’t believe them.

Now I do. 

This week I’m dedicating SMiCH to posts on Twitter:

  • Today I’ll talk a bit about our experience using Twitter for the hospital.  
  • I’m very excited to report that tomorrow we’ll have our first guest post from David Bourne from Scarborough Hospital, which just had its first tweetcast. They live tweeted a hospital event on elder care and he is going to tell us all about it.  (Thank you David!)
  • On Wednesday I’ll talk about why, as a hospital communicator, I like to use Twitter for professional development, problem solving and idea generation.
  • On Thursday we’ll talk about how to get started on Twitter.
  • And, for some Twitter best practices, please check out SMiCH on Friday.

If anyone has a suggestion for something else that should be included, please let me know.  Or if anyone would like to make an editorial contribution, that is most welcome too!

Hospital Tweets
While we have more fans of our Facebook page than followers on Twitter, we tend to get more engagement through Twitter.  People in the community are very active at retweeting our information, and we are slowly building an on-line community.

We now tweet two to five times per day, mainly about health tips and hospital news.

It is interesting to see which tweets get retweeted the most, as it is potentially a good gauge of what information is most useful to our community.  I say that is “potentially” a good gauge because the timing of our tweets surely also impacts the frequency of retweeting. We are just starting to look into that now. And since our average twitter follower is a parent in the community, I’m sure we’ll see some interesting trends regarding when parents are on-line. Would we get more retweets if we tweeted in the evening after the kids were in bed? I don’t know, but I’ll report back later.

While we have separate French and English Facebook pages, we have only one Twitter account.  We tweet in both languages.  When we retweet, we do it only in the language of the original tweet.


More interesting to me is reading what other people are tweeting about us. I’ve read tweets from people waiting in our Emergency, looking for parking, and working as a volunteer.  And, I have to say,  it is very interesting to read about your hospital through the eyes of a parent whose child is in your care.  New mothers are often very heavy users of Twitter and other social media tools. I know I was!


I use Tweetdeck to monitor tweets referencing @CHEOhospital or just #CHEO or “CHEO”.  I’m considering moving to Hootsuite, and I’d love to hear from you on the pros & cons of each. 

(As an aside, “CHEO” appears to be a very popular Latin name and the name of a popular musician. So while “ScarboroughHospital” may take up lots of valuable real estate within the 140 characters, I bet they don’t have to sort through lots of tweets in Spanish!)

We monitor tweets two to four times a day.  So far the volume isn’t very high, so it only takes a few minutes per day.  


So far, I’d say that most of the interaction we see is people retweeting our health information and our fundraising events.  And we’ve had a good smattering of people tweeting about the good care their child, or a friend’s child, has received while in our care — which is always nice to hear. But here are a few other interactions so that you can see a broader sample:

  • Someone tweeted about coming to a clinic appointment and paying for parking, only to find out the clinic appointment was cancelled because the doctor wasn’t in that day.  Ouch, right? We responded apologizing, because every clinic appointment is important.  And we referred them to our Patient/Family representative in case they’d like to discuss it further. BTW, is is very important that you discuss your social media approach with your Patient/Family representative (or whoever handles patient complaints). 
  • We saw one very derogatory tweet about the hospital made by one of our employees.  His manager spoke to him and explained our social media policy.
  • We saw an interesting exchange between several people about the age of consent for kids in hospital — and when physicians should act on consent from the child versus the parents, particularly when they don’t agree on a clinical direction.   Age of consent is a grey area, so we provided a bit of context and then gave them contact information to discuss it further if they wanted to.

One of my favorite Twitter accounts is the Montreal Children’s Hospital.  Pamela, their webmaster, once told me that they try to use the rule of thirds for social media content — 1/3 useful health information, 1/3 hospital news or promotions and 1/3 engaging their audience with questions.  I think that is a great rule and they do a great job implementing it.  We still struggle with engaging our audience with questions.


Since launching our Twitter account, we’ve struggled about who we should follow.  Obviously, we’ve followed good sources of trusted health information like Safe Kids Canada and Ottawa Public Health.  And we’ve followed leaders in the community, and people who are active fundraisers.  And we’ve even followed some of our patients — their stories can be so riveting.  But in hindsight, following our patients was the wrong thing to do.  To understand why, check out this post by social media expert Ed Bennett:

“There’s no reason for a hospital to “follow” their patients. It’s invasive, and doesn’t benefit either party. We are not the same as other businesses. We are not selling shoes like Zappos or Cable TV like Comcast, two examples of corporate best practices on Twitter. We are touching peoples lives at their most personal and vulnerable point – and that connection requires discretion and respect in our part.

I believe that social networking tools like Twitter are the future of the Internet. But it’s important that we, as large, powerful organizations use these tools in a sensitive, understanding way. Respect the privacy and boundaries of our patients, and we will earn the right to be part of the conversation.”

I don’t think anything could say it better.

The many faces of Twitter

Of course, there are many other ways for hospitals to use Twitter, besides sharing of health information and listening to their community.  Among them:

  • Help recruit patients for clinical trials or recruit new hospital staff
  • Tweetcasting hospital events, like annual general meetings, to provide transparency to the public.  IWK in Halifax did this last year.  
  • Hold tweet chats with your community on key health topics, helping to answer their questions.
  • Tweetchats among patients with similar health conditions, so they can provide mutual support.
  • Seeking patient and community input on various topics.
  • Here is an interesting case in Belgium of using Twitter in the Emergency room. Assignments for dispatch, triage, doctors and nurses are tweeted so that everyone stays informed, including patients.
  • Live tweeting cutting-edge surgeries as part of an on-going academic and teaching mandate. Henry Ford does this in the U.S., and I’ve heard Grey’s Anatomy has done it too.

According to regular tweeter Phil Baumann, there are 140 uses for Twitter in healthcare.  Of them, we’ve only tried four or five.  I’d be interested in hearing experiences that other hospitals might have had with the other 135.

More to follow!


4 Comments to “A week’s worth of Twitter”

  1. @ScarboroughHosp 14 February 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Our Twitter handle does indeed take up some space, but in terms of monitoring our mentions, we have an entirely different problem: believe it or not, there are two other Scarborough Hospitals in the world. One is in England, the other in Trinidad. More than once I have replied to tweets only to find the original message had nothing to do with us. This presents an interesting challenge in that I have a much harder time protecting our brand; any negative posts that mention “The Scarborough Hospital” could reflect badly on our organization, whether they’re about us or not. Many times I have to rely on the user profile of the person tweeting, hoping their geographic location will help determine which hospital they’re tweeting about.

    • ann.fuller 14 February 2011 at 4:44 pm #

      Hmmm, yeah, that would be tough. At least there is usually very little overlap between latin music and pediatric care. :-)

  2. mitoticspindle 14 February 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I like Montreal Children’s 1/3s rule, and they do seem to get a great response. My hospital has only just started using Twitter and I’m keen to say how the response turns out after more followers get built up. I’d like to see more about some of the fascinating research being done here–as an employee, I get to find out about a lot that I think would also interest the general public. I’m also curious if there are hospitals that have more than one official Tweeter, or even Twitter account, to offer news and perspectives from more specialized groups within the hospital itself. It might be a good way to engage employees and departments, although this of course requires a strong social media policy (and I’m not sure that all hospitals on Twitter have one, or at least a well-publicized one).

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