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Disasters Test Hospital Social Media Strategies

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2011

When Virginia suffered a 5.8 magnitude earthquake on August 23, Twitter reported more than 40,000 quake-related tweets within 60 seconds of the event. Facebook also had 3 million U.S. users updating friends and family about the earthquake.

Email simply can't keep up.

"We were able to measure and track people's responses during the hurricane," Ryback said. “We also sent out notifications to local newspapers and they put the information up on their accounts.”

Since Irene started churning up the coast, a number of organizations used social media preemptively, to their communication advantage:

Widgets – The Red Cross provides free disaster relief widgets that hospitals can easily add to websites or blogs. The tool automatically updates with information the Red Cross provides about the natural disaster.

Twitter resources – The National Public Health Information Coalition created an aggregate Twitter feed on its website during hurricane Irene. The page shows updates from east coast states about state emergencies. One example includes how @healthvermont tweeted at 9:16 a.m. on August 30th:

Health Dept. currently no email service. Call if need to reach us. Find info at our website healthvermont.gov and Facebook page. #vt

YouTube – Sometimes pictures speak louder than words. Having a hospital YouTube channel can enable a health system to show the community how it reacted in an emergency situation. North Shore LIJ Health System has a YouTube channel with a recent video of its CEO Michael Dowling commenting on the evacuation. Dowling is an advocate for technology and has said that it is a core component of North Shore-LIJ's strategic plan.

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