Social Media & Healthcare: Q&A with MD Anderson

May 14th, 2012   •   3 comments   

As social media moves into more regulated industries such as healthcare, it is refreshing to see a leader in healthcare industry adopting early and successfully. Healthcare is moving and evolving; the two-­‐way relationship between caregivers and patients is alive and well in the social space. In this Q&A interview, Amy Howell discusses social media strategy and practices in the healthcare field with Lucy Richardson & Jennifer Texada of MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the world’s leading cancer centers.


Jennifer Texada is the program director for the department of integrative media communications, and Lucy Richardson (pictured) is the communications assistant who serves as the community manager for MD Anderson’s blogs and social media presence.

Who is MD Anderson?

MD Anderson has built a worldwide reputation for excellence in cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. We couldn’t have done it without our top-­‐notch faculty and staff, or the generous spirit of volunteers and community members who donate everything from free time to pints of blood to help us in Making Cancer History®. Our various departments work as a team to deliver multidisciplinary cancer care, a concept pioneered by MD Anderson.


How did MD Anderson get in the Social Media Game?

MD Anderson began in 2006 with YouTube, on the recommendation of an agency regarding SEO back when Google was about to index YouTube listings. A few months later, MD Anderson staff noted Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic using social media in interesting ways. MD Anderson then launched Twitter and Facebook in March of 2007 and has been going strong ever since.

“We went from SEO to meeting patients and family members where they were,” Texada recalls. “One of the initial things we realized is that when patients get cancer diagnosis, the first thing they do is they get online and search. Being MD Anderson, we needed to be everywhere to meet patients where they were with quality, accurate information.”


As early adopters, how did you overcome legal?

“It wasn’t easy. When we established the YouTube channel, we had to beg our IT division to unblock,” Texada remembers. “We had to explain that we were posting content for patients about treatment, care and conditions and that we needed to see what the patients were talking about. If our teams couldn’t see it, we couldn’t help.”

The MD Anderson IT division had not blocked Facebook and Twitter, so able to access the sites, the communications team was able to begin education efforts and get a policy in place.
“We were so early and successful that we didn’t have the legal and management argument,” said Texada. “Policy is really strict and understanding HIPAA is vital; we err on side of caution and are very conservative. When interviewing a patient, you must have all the forms signed and prepared prior to posting any content.” Over the years, regulated industries have learned that being conservative is key to successful campaigns and strategies.


What are your uses for social?

Engagement, customer service, simple questions—people expect a certain level of service. One of most important uses of a website is as a hub for content. Then, use social media to direct traffic to the content on your website.
“If an airline can get on Twitter and use it for corporate social responsibility (CSR), a hospital system can too. We think that it is a must,” said Richardson.

“The connections we have made through Twitter have been amazing for us. We have been able to enhance our program through real contacts and bonds made with other healthcare professionals and have expanded our reach worldwide.”

Over the past 70 years, MD Anderson has expanded regionally and partnered with hospitals all over the world, so the ability to have a global communications reach is crucial.


What social channels do you utilize?

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn for recruiting, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube— which is huge for MD Anderson, according to Richardson. Other medical video channels are patient and research focused. When MD Anderson creates a blog or video, it is shares across all channels.


Do you track it?

Texada and Richardson insist that they have tracked their channels since day one. One thing they prefer about social media is that it is very measurable. “You have to understand what success measures are before you look at analytics. We track new followers, new fans, interaction, retweets, and engagement; our main goal is to reach many,” said Texada. “We have a report with 12 different tabs that track each channel, traffic to and referring sources. We also have a dashboard report to track trends.”


Learning experiences?

“The most important is TRAINING! Richardson handles the day to day and is creative so I do a lot of training,” says Texada. “Different levels of ability and levels of comfort require specialized training. People need to take time, have patience, learn and understand implications. I train faculty members; but there usually has to be an “ah-­‐ha” moment. Once that happens they begin to understand what to look for: How to find fans, how to cultivate relationships, and the “ah-­‐ha” is that connection they make once they make a contact that is key. The struggle boils down to education.”


Advice to healthcare entities that are not using social?

The MD Anderson communication team advises that healthcare entities not utilizing social media are missing opportunity to have a dialogue with patients. Richardson adds, “People will talk about you anyway. When people talk about us, we engage!” The key word is engage. Social media gives businesses and individuals the opportunity to have conversations, solve problems, and meet challenges. Healthcare reform is a hot topic and social media provides an opportunity to discuss that and more directly with patients.


What are the characteristic traits of someone “good” at social?

According to Texada, it is not necessarily about age; a quality user has to be a good writer and articulate. “For health care, you must be empathetic and understand patient needs,” she adds. “You also MUST be good writer—not necessarily in a formal sense—but naturally able to write in order to communicate and connect. Writing must be short form and engaging. You have to be able to edit yourself.” Social media is not about publications writing, it is about engaging and clearly connecting.


What does the COO think?

“This year, we send our senior leaders monthly report of mentions of the brand on social media. “Our Chief of Clinical Operations appreciates that we can get real-­‐time information about what patients and the world think about us. He can then reach out to different departments based on this to information.”
When it comes down to it, professionals do not always have to understand every aspect of social. They want to see a return on investment or a measurable indication of the benefit of the social media efforts. MD Anderson’s provision of tracked results allows those not involved in social to understand its importance and relevance to the brand.


Are there different strategies for different tools?

“Audiences are different; for example, Facebook is different from Twitter,” Lucy tells us. “On occasion they cross, but are mostly very different strategies.” Sharing your posts across multiple platforms is acceptable, but overall the audiences are not the same. Care must be taken to know and reach your particular audience in the correct way. Otherwise, you are just shouting to an empty room.



“The traditional hasn’t changed,” Texada shares. “Social media has actually increased our budget. We have a different audience in the digital world. We have beefed up our digital, but haven’t stopped or backed off of traditional media.”
Once again, we see evidence that social leverages traditional. Online marketing does not take the place of traditional marketing. The strategies must align and overlap in some cases, but there is currently no replacement for traditional communications.


What impact does your CancerWise blog have?

“We are proud of our blog that ended up getting us here; we reached out to patients who write for us,” says Richardson. “It is amazing. Patients write about everything. They provide tips and resources for next set of people coming in.”
The stories of the brave patients currently in care are able to touch and inspire those who may have just received a diagnosis. The power of social media allows friendships to be made and had by those who may have never had the opportunity to connect before. The caregivers offer assistance and comfort and cancer patients, survivors and the families of both can discover through social media that they are not alone.


Follow MD Anderson:

CancerWise Blog






  1. Emily Thomas says:

    I know first-hand the great job MD Anderson does with connection – personal and social media/internet. I was a patient there 2007-2009. The ability for patients to connect with medical professionals and other patients in invaluable and sets MD Anderson apart from most medical facilities.

  2. Excellent piece.As shown in the piece it is very possible for doctors to reach out to their patients through social media.This social media forms can be like facebook and twitter.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro

  3. Amy Howell says:

    Emily, this post could have never happened without your introduction. Thank you so much for connecting me with Jennifer & Lucy. I am so happy for your successful healthy outcome.
    Erick, thanks so much for reading, commenting & tweeting.

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