The pressures and drivers to reduce costs, improve quality, emphasize prevention and increase access are making social media and the underlying technologies more attractive to healthcare leaders. They can be effective and efficient tools for the delivery of communications to targeted individuals and/or populations.

As a result, those leaders who recognize that we must change the way care is provided are starting to explore new ways of engaging patients across the continuum of care. Below is a top 10 list of the possibilities that are just a starting point.

1. Access to social media: Make access to social media available to patients and their family caregivers while they are in the hospital. Life continues and many patients' use social media to overcome isolation and keep family and friends updated, especially during long stays or in cases of serious illness. Others will appreciate the diversion during long waits for care or treatment.

2. Self-management: The average patient with a chronic condition spends six hours a year in a medical office. Support these patients and their family caregivers with social self-management tools as they maintain or improve their health during those remaining 8,754 hours.

3. Communication needs: Social channels can accommodate learning and language needs of individual patients and their family caregivers. Social technologies can support evidence-based communication techniques, such as making the patient part of the team, advocating for the patient, engaging patients and facilitating closed-loop and hand-off communications.

4. Relevant information: Avoid information overload by using widgets, apps and other social tools to deliver more relevant information when and where patients prefer. Making electronic information available on social sites also makes it easier to find by the search engines.

5. Right channels: Meet patients where they are already communicating. Use private pages and groups on popular social media channels to engage patients on health topics of interest and provide links to resources for additional information.

6. Listening skills: Social media is the new "word of mouth" influence. Listen to what patients and family caregivers have to say about your organization on popular social media channels. Respond when appropriate and improve care and processes based upon this freely available feedback.

7. Gathering intelligence: Use social media channels to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence on important issues, conditions, topics or even competitors. Incorporate learnings into your organization's strategies and plans. Identify attitudes, perception and behavior about brands and trends.

8. Multimedia messaging: Use graphics, video and audio for more engaging multiformat messaging and to help overcome low health-literacy barriers. Information presented in multiple formats also increases the opportunities for sharing information across additional channels.

9. Patient choice: Communicate with patients and their family caregivers on their preferred channels. This can include text messages for behavioral messaging, test/medication/appointment reminders and updates on delays or cancellations.

10. Alignment effort: Align social engagement with performance improvement efforts to ensure opportunities are designed for patients and their caregivers and contributing the desired results. Alignment of these two efforts may also spark new ideas and innovation for applying social tools in other areas.

If you have additional ideas for applying social tools to improve the patient experience, please share them by adding a comment.