Forget Email: The Case for Social Media in Healthcare

The following is a guest post by Dr. Gary Ferguson that initially appeared in The TIBCO Blog. Gary Ferguson has a strong background in starting, leading, and turning around healthcare IT organizations.  Dr. Ferguson earned his doctorate in pharmacy and pharmacology at the Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Health Network, and gained clinical experience working in a trauma center.

Enterprise social networks that provide privacy, security and collaboration in a private health community built around both people and subject matters will be the thing that accelerates social media adoption faster than any technology trend that has ever touched healthcare.

When you combine the power of collaboration with the ability to assimilate information in context and respond in real time, you have the basic ingredients to truly transform healthcare. Social media supported on-premise through private cloud architecture and deployed specifically for the hospital to engage both physicians and patients might be just the right medicine.

Hospitals and physicians are coming around to social media even though they have tended to be late to technology parties and are generally risk-averse to solutions whose value isn’t yet fully understood. Then there are the valid concerns with social media, such as HIPAA violations and the security holes that are known to plague the consumer-oriented social platforms. Despite all this, some progressive hospitals are done experimenting and moving into strategic deployment. And why not? The stakes are too high to ignore.

The emerging e-patient

With the emergence of the e-patient who are equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in all things related to their healthcare, there is much to be gained for all stakeholders by adopting social media sooner rather than later.  As a collaboration tool, email is extremely limited, presents some of the same security issues as social media and does more to silo work efforts than to foster collaboration.  And even though nearly every physician is armed with a smart phone, few physicians are extracting the benefits of engaging with online communities, preferring rather to email colleagues.

Yet, hospital organizations are just like any other business. When customers are talking about you, you can ill-afford not to listen to what they have to say. Social media was ready-made for HCAHPS and the impending paradigm of linking reimbursement to patient satisfaction.

Managing conversations with enterprise social platforms

Secure, enterprise social platforms such as tibbr can help physicians walk that fine line between imparting specific medical advice versus providing more generic medical information. Hospitals and physicians have a lot to gain from engaging e-patients, and managing and monitoring conversations. Tactically, hospitals are using social media in the same way that online retailers are: through marketing, brand support, and patient /physician retention/recapture programs, often referred to as loyalty campaigns.

Within the very construct of ACOs is the demonstrable ability to collaborate with remote stakeholders. In one case, tibbr is being launched in a single ACO that spans more than 45 counties and 1,100 physicians. Forgive my southern influence, but this is not the kind of meeting that was intended to take place at your local Waffle House.

The true benefit of social media in hospitals and healthcare systems is to be able to react in real time collaborating around events that aim to revolutionize quality of care, chronic disease management, health improvement, ER wait times, hospital rankings and business-to-business collaboration both within the hospital and between hospitals. For physicians, the use of these tools to connect and collaborate with other care providers could measurably impact opportunities to exchange knowledge, build loyalty and positively affect patient relationships and clinical outcomes.

Payers, too, have a stake in the game as brand loyalty becomes more important in the face of emerging insurance exchanges. Indeed, there will be a confluence of data from PHRs, clinical collaboration, payers’ customer touch points, and hospital affinity programs. At the center of this transformation is private community social media. Indeed, the ubiquity of mobile platforms and the emerging e-patient calls for a new form of patient portal.

I believe a private health community is one way that healthcare organizations can answer the needs of a rapidly evolving landscape marked by new ways of providing care and paying providers.

However you look at it, social media has invaded healthcare and it’s here to stay.

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Categories: Healthcare, Privacy, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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