In case you’re wondering if the hospital field’s adoption of social media might be a passing fad, look no further than Mayo Clinic’s partnership with social media management company Hootsuite. Together, the two organizations will offer online and in-person educational tools to help health care professionals of all stripes throughout the world learn how to connect with patients via myriad social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more — and to do it strategically.

Mayo Clinic has long been a champion of social technology: It created the Center for Social Media five years ago as an educational tool for its staff, and then branched out with the industrywide Social Media Health Network. The Hootsuite partnership is intended to scale up Mayo Clinic’s existing programs, and provide and ultimately strengthen provider and patient relationships, said Lee Aase, director, Mayo's Center for Social Media.

Aase says the goal is to offer the same one-day, in-person social media residency course as in years past, but to provide more advance online materials so students can have “a deeper conversation” when they do meet.

Farris K. Timimi, medical director at the Center for Social Media, looks at health professionals' adoption of social media as a way to provide trainees with “the same education that we provide patients on a daily basis.

 “The ability to take your knowledge set to a larger audience effectively, and to do so efficiently, does not replace a patient and a provider in the exam room, but adds another powerful tool for engagement,” he says.

In an era in which patients increasingly are thinking like consumers, hospitals must pull out all the stops to retain their business. And, as patients continue to flock online to make appointments, research providers and seek out their medical records, hospitals are following them and finding new ways to court them — some even going so far as to form their own in-house media teams as a means of community engagement. In comparison, social media is starting to look like a best practice.

“We think it’s critical that health care employees from all realms of the spectrum understand how to use these tools, especially since it’s where [patients] spend so much time,” Aase says. “This Hootsuite partnership allows us to bring [those training tools] to a much wider audience.”