Here are 10 things to think about – and add your own thoughts to – for the new year.

1. When it comes to social media, the most common refrain heard from hospitals and healthcare systems during 2010 was: “We’re not very far along with our social media efforts. We’re still learning.” In 2011, healthcare providers will realize that we are all in the same boat: just dangling our feet into the social media waters. But it will begin to feel more comfortable and worthwhile.

2. Only about 1 in 6 hospitals and healthcare systems are currently using social media (Facebook, Twitter or YouTube). In 2011, that number will grow. There are 5,795 hospitals in the U.S., according to the American Hospital Association. According to one of the few lists of healthcare’s use of social media – featured on Ed Bennett’s Found in Cache blog – 710 hospitals (12%) are now using Facebook. But that relatively small number doesn’t tell the whole story. Here at TPR Media, we work with more than 200 of the top U.S. hospitals who use our customized email messaging services. Of those hospitals, 70% have FB pages. Clearly, they are “first movers and innovators,” as indicated by their use of the only customizable electronic patient communications solution. But they are representative of what we will see more of in 2011. (BTW: If you haven’t already, check out Ed’s list. And if your hospital’s social media efforts are not included, be sure to send Ed your info. It will be useful to all of us.)

3. Many hospitals are developing and running their social media initiatives with some outside help since most did not the budget or the bandwidth at this early stage. Bravo! Hiring too quickly for a still in-flux medium is not cost or time efficient. But getting your feet wet does require shedding your socks and sticking a toe in the water. You may not have everything figured out yet, but with FB it’s easy to take that first step, and doing so can inform your process and strategy going forward.

4. In 2011, we will learn that it is not all about the number of fans you have. That is one of the few things people are watching, but quickly the question will become: “Which numbers matter and why?”

5. Don’t get me wrong, fan acquisition is an important first step. But harnessing it for a return on investment will become the real focus in 2011.

6. We will learn that all content is not created equal. I can’t tell you how many hospitals have said, “We have so much, content is not a problem.” OK, what is it about and who “likes” it? In 2011, we will begin to learn that the FB wall is like one of a hospital’s service lines; if it is high quality, fans will return; if not, they won’t.

7. In 2011, it will dawn on healthcare providers that the “action” in social media is in the actions fans or visitors take. Engaging customers and potential customers, and being able to document the actions taken, will be very important.

8. What is cost of FB social media efforts for a hospital? In 2011, marketers and executives in hospitals at all levels will begin to ask that question. “How much are we spending and why? What can we expect to get out of it?” When figuring the cost, make sure you know the value of each post. Does each post have a value? Should it?

9. More options will surface in 2011 not only to track postings of all types but also to compare and analyze your social media efforts in a broader context. Seek these out. Monitoring and measuring will very quickly be your best tool in optimizing success and proving value.

10. Surprise, surprise! In 2011, the success of hospitals’ social media efforts will begin to be connected to success in email and other electronic connections with patients. With 79% of Americans on the internet and email still a top use of the medium, it will matter how well these channels work together to meet business objectives.

So what do you think? What are your predictions for healthcare in 2011?

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