Social Media and the CDC

By Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC, contributor

March 9, 2011 - The use of social media is exploding across the globe, for both personal and professional activities. As healthcare organizations and healthcare professionals are embracing the new social media tools, hospitals are using Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to promote their services and discoveries. Now the federal government is making it even easier to forge these online connections.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long used the Internet to provide access to helpful tools and statistics, even dubbing itself “Your Online Source for Credible Health Information.” Recently, the CDC took another step into the digital realm by adding an eHealth Metrics Dashboard to their website on the heels of publishing an online guide for using social media to share health information.

Using the CDC’s Tools

The CDC provides tools and metrics to help health care administrators determine which channels will help build an online presence, reach target audiences and provide access to CDC health information from a facility’s website.

For instance, the CDC provides tools called buttons and badges, which are graphical images that can be added to your facility’s website to promote specific health campaigns or provide health content. Their newest program is called CDC Vital Signs, featuring a new subject each month with buttons that link to the content-specific pages. When the Vital Signs button on cardiovascular health is added to your website, as an example, users can click it and be taken to the CDC’s Vital Signs webpage featuring information on high blood pressure and cholesterol.

The metrics show that in 2010 there were 58,204 click-throughs on CDC’s Vital Signs.

The CDC website had 553,355,542 page views to overall. Not counting the CDC’s home page, the metrics demonstrate that the most popular topics on the site are the body mass index (BMI) calculators, food safety, salmonella and traveler’s health.

If your facility wants to reach out to patients regarding the importance of knowing their body mass index, the CDC has a widget that you can add to your website that lets anyone calculate their BMI.

The CDC tracks the top internal and external search words on its site, offering an indication of what subjects are of interest to online readers. The top external search word after “CDC” is “herpes,” for instance. In addition to the CDC web page and fact sheet on the subject, the CDC provides a Twitter feed on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Based on the services you provide and patient population your medical center serves, this feed might be of interest to your target audience. Similar information tools are available for other diseases.

The CDC’s Social Media Toolkit provides detailed information on how to take advantage of the buttons and badges as well as other multimedia content available through the CDC.

CDC’s Lessons Learned

The CDC has provided guidance in using social media based on their lessons learned over the past four years.

The first recommendation based on a lesson learned is to make strategic choices and understand the level of effort involved in using social media. To aid in this, the CDC has provided a table of the various tools and the estimate of the time and cost for each tool.

To help healthcare administrators decide which tools to use, the CDC provides examples of image sharing, content syndication, RSS feeds, podcasts, online video sharing, ecards, electronic games, mobile health, social networking sites and virtual worlds, in addition to the buttons, badges, widgets and micro-blogs (Twitter) already mentioned.

Get Started

A study released in February 2011 found that hospitals are missing out on opportunities to connect with their community, interact with patients and extend their brand on Facebook. The nationwide study, conducted by Verasoni AhHa! and Simon Associates Management Consultants, involved 120 hospitals of various sizes, and found that just having a page on FaceBook or another social media site isn’t enough to accomplish a facility’s goals.

The proliferation of devices that access the Internet continues to multiply. With patients and potential patients accessing medical information at all hours of the day and from all corners of the globe, a vital, content-rich web presence can be one important strategy for making accurate and complete information available and growing your own patient base.

Read more at:
CDC - eHealth Metrics Dashboard