Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community


Medical center connects with tweets, blogs and posts

John Morton, MD, created a Facebook group to help his bariatric surgery patients share insights and discuss concerns.


From the Library of Congress’ recent acquisition of all public tweets to the election of President Obama, social media—sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—have transformed elections, media consumption and even how doctors and hospitals communicate with patients.

While the use of social media has advanced at a less frenetic pace in medicine, an increasing number of medical centers, including Stanford, are leveraging these tools to educate patients or connect them to support groups.

“If you look at the numbers over the last year, there was a big increase in the adoption of social media,” said Bryan Vartabedian, MD, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and author of the 33 Charts medical blog ( “Social media use is going to continue to climb, and we’re probably going to see more real dialog as opposed to one-way communication.”

More than 83 percent of all adults in the United States now look for medical information on the Internet, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Most are researching a specific disease, a treatment or even a new exercise regimen. One-third of American adults have used social media in regard to health, and those adults are more likely to use social media in general, the Pew researchers found.

The interest in health-related social media has not been lost on hospitals and health-care providers. About 600 hospitals produce some 280 YouTube channels, 382 Facebook pages, 470 Twitter accounts and 82 blogs, according to Found in Cache, a blog by Edward Bennett, the director of Web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical System.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital was one of the first children’s hospitals in the country to launch a Facebook fan page and to create a dedicated YouTube channel, which now carries 95 videos ranging from online lectures on eating disorders to patient testimonials.

“Having a video component to help tell the story of your work certainly adds a dynamic that goes way beyond a traditional Web page,” said Sarah Staley, Packard Children’s director of news and communications.

Educating the public

Although Vartabedian said using social media to discuss specific patient cases isn’t appropriate, he points out that social media have many properties that give them considerable educational potential. “Sharing links, discussing research developments and information gathering are all great ways to use social media in medicine in a general way,” he said.

That is just how John Morton, MD, an associate professor of surgery, is using a Facebook group to help his bariatric surgery patients. “We started the group to raise awareness about the clinic and give our patients a forum for discussion,” Morton said. “The patients act as educators for each other. We’re taking advantage of their collective wisdom.”

Over the past two years, Stanford’s School of Medicine has been actively developing a variety of social media to educate the public about the school’s faculty and innovations, underscore the importance of biomedical research, and provide access to high-quality medical and scientific information. Its core projects include the following:

  • Scope medical blog (—Scope was created to provide the public with accurate, engaging coverage of scientific and medical developments at Stanford and around the world. Scope was recently named “Best New Medical Blog” in a national medical blog competition, and its entries have been featured in The New York Times, in the popular Boing Boing blog, and in other scientific and medical forums.
  • The @sumedicine Twitter feed (—The medical school’s Twitter feed provides more than 1,200 users with timely news and conversation about the school and its community.
  • A Facebook fan page (—The medical school’s Facebook fan page, which has more than 2,300 fans, attracts an audience primarily interested in pursuing or developing a career in medicine. The page posts regular updates on scientific and medical discoveries, as well as relevant health-related news items.
  • A Flickr photo stream (—The Stanford Medicine Flickr photo stream displays the medical school’s imaging research programs and image collections. The Flickr collection has been viewed more than 329,000 times, and images have been featured in The New York Times, on the Discovery Channel and on scores of blogs.

Reaching out to families

When Packard Children’s jumped into the world of Facebook ( in late summer 2008, there were skeptics. “Some people wondered if Facebook was an appropriate tool for hospital marketing and awareness,” said Staley, the hospital’s news and communications director. “However, we were quickly able to affirm that Facebook was a complement to our more traditional methods of providing information to families.”

At the time, there were fewer than 10 children’s hospitals in the country using the tool. Now, there are 60. “It’s really become an important and expected way of creating regular engagement with our families,” Staley said.

The hospital recently posted a Facebook item on the first anniversary of its cardiac intensive care unit. The news received 12,000 Facebook impressions around the country within three days, Staley said. Through Facebook, the hospital not only has shared important information about its clinics, research and staff, but also has helped families with appointments and even hospital parking issues.

“If there is important news that we need to spread right away, within seconds we can update our Facebook page and send an update to all our fans,” Staley said.

Packard Children’s was one of the first children’s hospitals to create a dedicated YouTube channel ( and has more than 800 followers on Twitter (

“Social media are an increasingly important component of our overall hospital’s engagement with patient families,” Staley said. “You never know what might resonate.”

For example, a video of a visit by officials from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Packard Children’s Advanced Pediatric and Perinatal Education Center garnered almost 5,500 views, she said.

Making connections

Stanford Hospital’s debut in social media came in the fall of 2009 with a Facebook fan page (, recently named one of the best hospital pages in the country by, an Internet marketing blog. Since then, its fan base has grown to more than 2,200 members, making it one of the most popular Facebook pages among adult hospitals nationwide.

“Social media allow us to connect with people in an innovative way that immediately bridges distances,” said Gary Migdol, the hospital’s director of communications. “Through sites like Facebook, we can now have a dialogue with our fans and provide valuable health information that can be shared with online friends with the click of a mouse. It’s very powerful.”

Through the hospital’s Facebook page, patients are able to share experiences and offer advice to other patients. “We’ve had heartfelt comments from former patients and physicians answering health-related questions. It’s opened the door to a very positive and productive conversation,” said Migdol.

The hospital also launched a Twitter page ( that currently has more than 1,300 followers and a YouTube channel ( that has logged more than 30,000 views of its online videos.

While hundreds of people received a free skin cancer screening at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center recently, thousands more who couldn’t visit the clinic were able to connect to Stanford physicians through the hospital’s social media networks. A video was posted to the hospital’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages that featured questions from the public and answers by Stanford’s team of skin cancer specialists.

In addition to providing a communications tool that extends beyond the reach of traditional media, Stanford Hospital’s social media sites have been used to provide timely information during the recent H1N1 flu crisis and a citywide power outage that affected hospital operations.

“More and more people are getting their news and information from social media sites,” said Migdol. “It’s a part of our mainstream culture and is an invaluable asset when information needs to be disseminated quickly.”

He noted that social media sites also can be entertaining. For instance, one of the most popular pieces was a video of the canine helpers from PAWS (Pet Assisted Wellness Program at Stanford), the dogs who visit patients in the hospital. “The PAWS dogs bring a smile to everyone. They were a viral hit,” he said.

Footer Links: