Nearly all members of America’s Essential Hospitals use social media to reach out to their communities. But social media is a two-way street, and essential hospitals also understand the value of social platforms, such as Twitter, to monitor and respond to patient feedback and use those interactions to improve care and the care experience.

The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), in Galveston, is a great example. In a recent webinar we hosted, UTMB quality and communications staff explained how they take advantage of increased patient use of the internet to compare providers and voice opinions. UTMB not only redesigned its web properties to incorporate patient feedback, it regularly monitors social channels to improve quality on the fly.

During the webinar, Mary Feldhusen, web communications and operations manager at UTMB, illustrated the point perfectly with this story:

“We had a good opportunity for service recovery when a man tweeted that he was with his wife in labor and delivery. He felt like they were having to wait too long and that they were ‘getting the run around.’ Because he tagged @UTMBNews, UTMB’s social media manager received a notification on Twitter, and she was able to respond almost immediately. She replied and was able to get the gentleman’s location. Patient services then went to visit the couple and helped smooth things over—so much so, that our social media manager later received ‘thank you’ tweet.”

UTMB’s experience using Twitter to monitor patient satisfaction is a practical example of how our members constantly strive to improve quality of care. Much of hospitals’ data on patient perspectives comes from quarterly Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys. But that could change in the social media age. Several studies point to the usefulness and growth of social media as a resource for hospitals.

In a 2015 study published in BMJ Quality & Safety, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital mined more than 400,000 tweets directed at the Twitter accounts of more than 2,400 hospitals. Of these tweets, slightly more than 34,000 dealt with patient satisfaction and were coded as positive, negative, or neutral and grouped by topics, such as pain, communication, or time.

“We were able to capture what people were happy or mad about, in an unsolicited way,” Jared Hawkins, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Computational Health Informatics Program, said in a 2015 Becker’s Infection Control & Clinical Quality interview. A year after the study, a team comprising researchers, epidemiologists, and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital launched, where they publish lists ranking hospitals and health care systems with data gathered from Twitter.

In the most recent rankings from, two association members — Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in South Carolina and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — were ranked among the top 10 hospitals and health systems that received the most positive patient feedback on Twitter. Spartanburg, which began using Twitter in 2009, uses the platform to expand the reach of its messaging. But the hospital also actively monitors Twitter for questions and patient feedback.

“We believe that by creating an active social media presence on all networks, we give people a chance to talk with us regularly,” said Alan Jenkins, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s digital media specialist. Spartanburg even actively solicits patient feedback on Twitter with video monitors throughout the facility encouraging visitors to tweet at the hospital, a testament to its commitment to improve quality by listening to patients socially. “This worked really well for us with one woman who had a family member in our hospital in May 2015. She used 19 tweets over five days to applaud individual staff members for outstanding care they provided to her family member,” Jenkins said.

There are drawbacks, however, to using Twitter as a tool to measure patient satisfaction. For one, there’s only so much data you can mine on a daily basis. The volume of tweets analyzed by that dealt with patient satisfaction was small. In addition, Twitter’s 140-character limit restricts patients from providing detailed feedback. As such, the researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital are considering looking at other sites, such as Yelp, that are designed for rating local businesses.

Nevertheless, the potential for a significant body of data grows as more patients use Twitter and other social platforms to give hospitals feedback on their care experience. The opportunity for hospitals to use social media to provide timely responses grows, as well. Hospitals that are early adopters of social media mining will be better prepared to use these tools to improve quality when the data starts rolling in.