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By GCN Staff

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Air Force Medical Service Facebook page

Medical service's Facebook experience a sign of social media's growth

Agencies' online activities have evolved steadily over the years from static to interactive Web pages and onward to a presence on social media. But social media is becoming more than just a little something extra. In some cases, it’s becoming the primary way agencies interact with their constituents.

The Air Force Medical Service, for instance, has found that Facebook is the most efficient way to reach the more than 1 million service members and families it serves.

AFMS, with 75 medical facilities around the world, had determined that its websites weren’t getting enough information to patients, according to an account of the project in the Partnership for Public Services’ #ConnectedGov report. People with medical questions had to go to a clinic and get the answers in person.

So in 2011, a communications task force began helping each of its facilities launch Facebook pages, using the AFMS Surgeon General’s page as the primary source of common content and answers to frequently asked questions. The task force didn’t mandate Facebook, but it caught on: Today, 86 percent of the service’s facilities use Facebook to communicate with patients, according to the report.

Twenty of the facilities also now are set up to respond to texted or e-mailed questions from patients through a secure messaging system, which saves time and money for both doctors and patients.

The medical facilities have expanded into specific areas, the report says, for instance creating Facebook pages for a diabetes support group, suicide prevention and asthma. When one facility announced flu shots on Facebook, a record number of people came in.

The move into social media is an example of agencies going where the people are. The Postal Service, for instance, lets people track their packages on Facebook.  The Environmental Protection Agency and USA.gov are among the agencies active on Facebook. And many agencies, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offer steady Twitter feeds of news, features and photos.

As the Partnership for Public Service’s report on AFMS notes, social media is not only a way for agencies to broaden reach, it’s become a necessity — because the people are there already. One AFMS facility, worried that a Facebook page would draw a lot of negative comments, discovered that a disappointed patient had already created one for the facility. Creating its own, legitimate page allowed the center to respond to criticism while offering offer help for patients.

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Apr 22, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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