MHA students present social media research at the Pennsylvania Public Health Association Conference

Penn State Master of Health Administration (MHA) students recently presented research on the role of social media in healthcare at the Pennsylvania Public Health Association’s Annual Conference in Philadelphia. The conference is focused on exploring issues that impact public health across the nation and across the Commonwealth.

The research team included four second-year MHA students, Tejal Raichura, Ashley Kimmel, Latoya Tatum, and Shantanu Dholakia and was co-led by Deirdre McCaughey, assistant professor of health policy and administration and Dominique LaRochelle, QPSI project manager at the Cleveland Clinic, a 2009 MHA alum. “This was a unique opportunity to present our findings to other university students, organizations, and professionals in public health”, said Dholakia.

The team’s research is focused on the growing connection between hospital reputation and social media. “The purpose of this research is to identify how social media is currently being used to disseminate public health information,” said Raichura.  The team’s work addressed both the use of social media to disseminate public health information, as well as the connection between hospital reputation and social media outlets.

The team found that, while overall social media use is increasing exponentially, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt social media tools, with only 20% of hospitals utilizing social media.   Individual consumers now routinely use social media outlets to comment on services received by hospitals – including posting you tube video; however, hospitals have been slow to use those same outlets to create a public image of their facility and services. 

"We found that organizations should match the scope of their social media strategy to their target audience when it comes to public health,” said Kimmel.  Social media is a low-cost method to effectively share information with a large number of people both nationally and internationally. The research found that the use of social media by hospitals and health systems could potentially enhance the health of communities. By utilizing social media to spread public health information, healthcare organizations can keep communities aware of health-related issues. “Many healthcare organizations have been reluctant to use social media; we hope that our research will give healthcare organizations more insight into the benefits of using social to help create a healthier society,” said Tatum.

“Our findings were well received and left more opportunities to further our research. There was interest from the audience for resources that would help guide healthcare providers in effective and appropriate use of social media in the future,” said LaRochelle.