Social Media Use by Surgery Centers: Q&A With Kim Woodruff of Pinnacle III

Kim Woodruff is VP of corporate finance and compliance for Pinnacle III.


Q: Why do you think social media can be an important element to a surgery center's success?


Kim Woodruff: Social media is an easily accessible, widely used series of platforms that distribute a vast amount of information more rapidly than ever before. It's powerful! In this information era, healthcare consumers are navigating a confusing system with a vast number of treatment options. Those consumers want to know more before they commit to receiving specialized care and most of them know how to obtain the facts that are important to them in their individual decision-making process.


If a surgery center wants to be perceived as up-to-date and in tune with its healthcare consumer base, establishing and maintaining an effective online presence greatly assists in furthering that goal. Achieving that presence can be established in a variety of ways. Most facilities begin with a company website then establish links to their interactive (web) presence through venues such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (to name just a few). Adding a social media component to your current web presence can create greater exposure through search engine optimization.


Q: Before an ASC starts to use social media, what does it need to do?


KD: I believe there are two essential requirements that must be met before an ASC launches their social media presence.



  • think about the facility's patient demographics. then develop a comprehensive strategy to meet the perceived needs and interests of those patients;
  • ensure the platform being utilized is incorporated effectively into the ASC's market-driven short-term and long-term strategic plans;
  • outline the pros and cons of a social media presence — consider, for example:
    • What type of response does the ASC desire from its intended and, perhaps more importantly, untargeted audience, versus what actions can and will be taken when a negative reaction is posted?
    • When negative exposure occurs (because it will), can it be mitigated and will this risk be outweighed by positive publicity?
    • Who will be designated to manage the content?
    • Can that person ensure everything posted on the site represents the organization well?
    • Is that person creative enough to post interesting content but detail-oriented enough to compose information in a user-friendly, professional and technically correct format?
    • How often will the content be updated?
    • Is the center committed to consistently maintaining and actively supporting its social media strategy with relevant in-house content and/or surrounding community contributions?


Second, establish an effective social media policy, integrate it into your organization's compliance program and ensure your employees receive comprehensive training on the importance of adhering to the principles outlined therein. Ensure your policy addresses the 10 critical components I outlined in my article published in the July/Aug. 2011 edition of Becker's ASC Review titled "10 Critical Social Media Guidelines for Surgery Center Physicians and Staff." Run your social media policy by legal counsel to ensure it is not too broad and will withstand potential challenges in court.


Q: How can an ASC know if it is using social media well or poorly?


KD: Simply put, gauge your "fan" response. Has a buzz been created? Are your patients posting positive comments about your facility online? Do they use your social media presence as a basis for discussion when they come in for an appointment? Are your employees rallying around the cause or mumbling that this idea is just the new program of the month? Do the facility's physicians perceive the platform as a value add — something they feel comfortable linking to their practice's website and/or social media page?


Q: What are some of the benefits you have seen for ASCs using social media?


KD: ASCs who use social media well are able to establish relationships and create meaningful discussions with their clientele. They effectively build trust in their organization and convey the notion that their facility is a center of excellence.


They accomplish these outcomes by:

  • Promoting events and physician seminars;
  • Demonstrating they are active in their surrounding communities in a socially conscious way;
  • Creating a "human" side to their patient care providers through the use of physician and employee profiles that put faces, interests and values to the names, positions and qualifications; and
  • Underscoring they do what they say they are going to do by backing up their mission and vision with content that supports their stated goals — for example:
    • Posting announcements pertaining to awards and/or recognition received by the organization, its physicians and employees;
    • Providing information about an addition, remodel, expanded programs/services and/or new equipment;
    • Creating picture collages that demonstrate a "team" in action.


Q: What are critical mistakes ASCs can make when using social media?


KD: As our company's compliance officer, I find myself playing the role of devil's advocate more often than not. I try to think about everything that can go wrong and I spend lots of time reading about mistakes made by others in an attempt to proactively respond by developing systems and policies for our organization and the clients we serve.


Common mistakes include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Launching your social media ahead of your corresponding compliance program;
  • Setting up people as "friends" rather than "fans", thereby blurring the line between professional and personal (a huge consideration for physicians);
  • Not thinking before posting:
    • posting information that can be traced back to a specific patient encounter thereby violating HIPAA privacy guidelines
    • dispensing medical advice or making specific care recommendations
    • not running the embarrassment test (forgetting to ask yourself beforehand if you would feel comfortable with everyone and anyone in your life reading what you have posted)
    • failing to recognize that internet content, once posted, is difficult to permanently retrieve and render unsearchable. You have to proceed as if what you have just posted will always be there for any to review and, potentially, take out of context. Posts will create lasting impressions!
  • Not maintaining the commitment to keeping the content fresh and up-to-date. If you establish a pattern of posting new content monthly, then lapse to every six months, or not at all, your fans are going to wonder what's really going on — is the business on solid ground, has there been significant staff turnover, are physicians gravitating to other centers?
  • Placing all your marketing outreach efforts into one basket: free social media platforms. This speaks to the notion of "digital sharecropping" which describes building your business on someone else's "land." In other words, anyone can create content on sites like Facebook, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. Although most ASCs do not run the risk of having their Facebook account deleted because they have violated the terms of service, in this rapidly changing world, the vendor may significantly alter the way you communicate to your customers with little notice, or begin charging fees, or abruptly stop supporting its platform. It's important to have a "buyer" beware attitude — even when you're not paying for the service you've come to rely upon — and to have a contingency plan should the worst case scenario occur.


In conclusion, I'd like to offer one further word of caution. Administrators and physician-investors need to take a good, long, hard, really honest look at the true state of the surgery center's internal affairs prior to jumping on the social media bandwagon. If morale is low, customers are dissatisfied, physicians are disgruntled, the building is in disrepair and/or the equipment is out-of-date, time is better spent addressing these issues first. Failing to do so will likely result in the most critical mistake that can be made: offering a free and easily accessible platform to air the facility's dirty laundry. So, address these issues first, then, once the center is firing positively and consistently on all cylinders, it can proceed with its social media launch.


Learn more about Pinnacle III.


More Articles Featuring Pinnacle III:

Pinnacle III to Open Texas Surgery Center in Pearland

New Colorado Surgery Center Coming to Boulder

Outsourcing Key Areas of Your Business Office: Q&A With Pinnacle III Executives

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