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Social Media: ‘A Mindset, Not Just a Channel’

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Increasingly, healthcare organizations will be using social networks to link together a very fragmented industry

In a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers presentation, as well as during an interview I conducted last week, I was reminded how important it is to remember the patient in everything we do in healthcare IT, and use that to inform the steady march toward healthcare reform.

In an interview about the launch of the Central Illinois Health Information Exchange (CIHIE), Joy Duling, executive director, said it best: “When we all take off our nametags at the end of the day, we are all patients, parents of patients, and children of patients.”

All organizations that will be connecting to CIHIE are committing to sharing six data points: demographics, medications, allergies, problem lists, diagnostic results, and immunizations, to help give a more complete view of their patients.

A huge part of putting the patient at the center of care, and which will be integral in creating patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations (ACOs), is really investing in social media in as PriceWaterhouseCoopers puts it a “thoughtful and deliberate” way, which “will be an increasingly important element of a health industry organization’s business strategy.” The healthcare consultancy also said it was important to “embrace social media as a mindset, not just a channel.”

“Social media is really pulling together an otherwise very fragmented industry because it’s putting the patient or member at the center of the conversation,” said Vaughn Kauffman, principal and payer advisory leader, health industries advisory, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, during the “Social Media ‘Likes’ Healthcare” webinar.

Associate Editor Gabe Perna recently reported on an Irving, Texas-based OB/GYN, Jeff Livingston, M.D., who uses Facebook (1,676 likes on his practice’s page), Twitter (3,010 followers), and other platforms to extend the reach of his practice. He not only targets STD prevention and education, but he truly recognizes that to engage the younger generation, he must use their preferred means of communication.

An interesting way that healthcare organizations can test the social media waters is to pilot strategies on their own employees before deploying them to their patients—like what the Arlington, Texas-based Texas Health Resources (THR), a 24-hospital, 4,100 bed health system, did. “Before the organization felt they could effectively engage customers externally, they needed to develop an internal culture of collaborating from operations to customer services-related issues and social media has really become a way of life for the multi-hospital system to drive better service,” said Vaughn.

THR has done a number of social media endeavors including crowd-source problem solving and creating more than 100 affinity groups focusing on topics like weight loss, sports, and innovation. One effective use of social media was when a chief nursing officer reached out to staff via THR’s internal network when there was an unexpected surge in ED visits to determine if additional help was needed.

Social media might seem like a back-burner issue when there are a multitude of requirements for meaningful use, but with the fact that now organizations are now having to engage patients through patient portals and Stage 2 requiring more than 10 percent of all patients having to view, download, or transmit to a third party their health information, the time for social media is now.