Private practice vs academia: Which makes best use of social media in radiology?

Private practice radiology groups have been earlier—and broader—adopters of social media than their academic counterparts, according to a study published online in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

For purposes of the study, a team of researchers, led by McKinley Glover, MD, of the department of radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the social media presence of the 50 largest private radiology groups (PRGs) and the 50 academic radiology departments (ARDs) with the highest level of funding from the National Institutes of Health.

The 50 largest PRGs in the U.S. were identified by using the Radiology Business Journal 2012 ranking of the 100 largest private practices (ranked by the number of full-time equivalent radiologists).

The researchers looked for the presence of radiology-specific accounts on several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and collected data on the amount of organizational activity and end-user activity on these sites.

It turns out that PRGs were much earlier adopters of social media than ARDs. For example, PRGs adopted Facebook 12 months earlier and Twitter 18 months earlier than ARDs. And PRGs use social media on a much broader basis as well. As of September 2014, 76% of PRGs maintained at least one account on social media sites, compared to just 28% of ARDs. In addition, 42% of the PRGs used at least three social media accounts, compared to just 6% of ARDs.

Why are academic radiology departments lagging behind private groups when it comes to adoption and use of social media? Glover and his colleagues speculated that one explanation could be that PRGs have to deal with a more competitive environment than ARDs, and that competition is usually associated with early adoption of new technologies.

In addition, ARDs are likely to face some restrictions when it comes to social media use. “Hospital branding will become more important in an increasingly competitive health care environment,” the authors wrote. “Implementation of master brand strategies may limit or prohibit individual ARDs from developing targeted outreach and marketing strategies.”

As far as individual social media sites, Facebook was the most common platform used by PRGs (66%), followed by LinkedIn (56%) and Twitter (42%). ARDs were more likely to have Twitter (24%) and Facebook (18%) accounts.

Glover and his colleagues wrote that the high utilization of LinkedIn by PRGs suggests that private groups consider it to be a valuable tool for staff recruitment. None of the ARDs had a LinkedIn account, which the authors said “is not unexpected, given that larger academic institutions and universities maintain a more centralized human resources and recruitment structure.”

Going forward, the authors suggested that social media could be useful tools for both PRGs and ARDs in their efforts to increase patient engagement and achieve the goals of the American College of Radiology’s Imaging 3.0™initiative.

“A radiology-specific social media presence will become increasingly important within the landscape of efforts to improve patient engagement in an increasingly patient- centered and competitive health care environment,” Glover and his colleagues concluded.