All VA medical centers have Facebook pages. Now what?

News analysis: To have all 152 VA centers on Facebook is a milestone, but what happens next?

The Veterans Affairs Department announced this week that all 152 of its medical centers now have Facebook pages.

Secretary Eric Shinseki described the large-scale Facebook outreach as a milestone for expanding veterans’ access to the VA and a way to “embrace transparency and two-way communication.”

Many of the centers' Facebook pages are months' old, while a few are new. While the benchmark is notable, the engagement with veterans through Facebook is a work in progress, judging by the relatively small number of conversations happening on the pages. 

The Facebook pages' popularity varies: the VA center in Boise, Idaho, had 242 “likes,” while the center in Orlando, Fla., had 2,372 “likes” as of Dec. 22.

A review of Facebook pages for four VA medical centers indicated that the centers are publishing primarily general medical news bulletins and practical information on VA benefits, as well as notices of bake sales, holiday events and commemorative events. The Facebook information appeared to be similar to the self-promoting news that flows from VA public affairs offices.

In addition, the anticipated “two-way communication” between veterans and the medical centers appeared to be limited at this time. The centers reviewed averaged 15 comments on Facebook per center during a recent three-week period. Some of those comments were from VA staff.

On the other hand, to their credit, some of the centers have posted critical or negative information on their Facebook sites. The Dayton VA medical center posted an inspector general’s report on its Facebook page in April about problems with VA patients being infected with hepatitis due to poor practices at the center’s dental clinic. No one commented.

Meanwhile, discussions between veterans and community members are occurring elsewhere on the Web. For example, the VA's own Vantage Point blog edited by Brandon Friedman, director of online communications and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, regularly has dozens of comments on its posts.

In addition, a guest blogger posted on the Bilirico Project blog on Dec. 20 about whether VA medical centers are providing adequate care for gay and lesbian veterans. Five people commented.

On Facebook, VA clinicians are not permitted to discuss specific health concerns of individual veterans, the VA said in its Dec. 21 announcement. But the VA staffers are allowed to provide “helpful information” and crisis intervention.

“In the last year, VA’s Crisis Line counselors have successfully intervened on Facebook in cases where veterans have suggested suicidal thoughts or presented with other emotional crises,” the VA said.

Currently, the VA has more than 345,000 fans on all its Facebook pages combined. The department’s main Facebook page has over 154,000 fans and its medical centers combined have more than 69,000 subscribers.

The next step is for every medical center to create a presence on Twitter as well, the VA said in its news release.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group