Defending Social Media in Healthcare

Mayo logoYesterday the Mayo Clinic announced it was opening a social media center to train other health care providers on the applications of social media to better connect with patients. Whether or not Mayo is the “expert” in this scenario may be debatable but I was pleased to see their attempts to move the industry forward, which frankly has been the proverbial long tail in the adoption curve.

And then I scrolled down to see comments like these…

Note that this is not about providing better patient care–it’s about selling. Chalk up one more for increased health care costs.” – langton04

Twitter? Twitter is for little girls, self-absorbed executives, and Lance Armstrong.” – teddyg

Worst. Idea. Ever.” – questioner

WHOA! What’s with all the haters? My first reaction was to reply right then and there to all the naysayers on the Minneapolis Star Tribune but I had to go through this huge rigmarole just to register with the site (which is an entirely different story), so I abandoned that effort and decided to post my response here.

I am amazed at the ignorance displayed by some of these posters.  There’s about $700 billion of wasteful spending in healthcare right now and I would argue that a good chunk of that is caused by poor, uninformed decision making. The adoption of social media in healthcare can only increase transparency in what has traditionally been a very closed model. So how does the proliferation of social media in healthcare translate to higher costs or worse care? If costs are artificially high, economic theory would tell us there’s an imperfection in the market, and part of that is transparency (or in this case, a lack thereof).

By empowering healthcare consumers to speak candidly with providers we can only improve that transparency – whether by comparing costs, assessing the need for certain procedures, or just promoting good ‘ol preventative care.

I’ll end with this: Don’t rush to judgment. If Mayo is only it for the money (per langton04), people will figure that out soon enough (though I’d argue so what if they are, so long as there is a corresponding public benefit). For now we have nothing to lose. I commend Mayo and hope others will take a queue by listening up. We just might learn something about one another.

“an extension of old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. “

Note that this is not about providing better patient care–it’s about selling. Chalk up one more for increased health care costs.

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  1. #1 by Brenda on July 28, 2010 - 8:52 am

    Amen

  2. #2 by Luke Cerny on July 28, 2010 - 10:31 am

    Amen Amen. Social media is not only a great networking tool, it is also an extremely cost effective marketing solution. I’m not sure where this stigma about social media being a plaything for little kids comes from, but its definitely NOT the case. Facebook had more hits last month than Google did – I can bet it wasn’t because of Farmville.

  3. #3 by Kris Kaneta on July 28, 2010 - 12:11 pm

    Thank you guys! Glad to know I am not alone here. This could be the jump start the healthcare industry needs to improve patient-provider relationships, just as it has in other industries.

  4. #4 by Sara Santiago on July 28, 2010 - 1:14 pm

    Kris,

    Of the many misconceptions regarding the use of social media for large companies/entities, the “it’s all just another attempt to make money.” usually comes up. I find a little education goes a long way with the “haters”. Even seasoned marketers are uncomfortable with the communication shift that social media adds to the traditional marketing, pr, and communication strategy for an institution/corporation. Your point regarding transparency is spot on. Social media is an excellent tool for increasing transparency, providing an additional customer service channel, and provides unprecedented real time consumer feedback. Great post.

  5. #5 by Kris Kaneta on July 29, 2010 - 11:20 am

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I think we are all violently in agreement with each other. That said – Kelly, you raise an entirely different need that I couldn’t agree more with, that of the patient experience. Why does the patient experience have to be so damn difficult?

    Why is it that every time I move, I have to fill out one of those medical history forms with my new doctor (EHR anyone?)?

    Why don’t doctors communicate over digital channels for simple things like appointments, billing, etc?

    Why can’t I have follow-up visits (or triage visit) via video conferencing or other channels?

    As @sam_kale said in his Twitter feed, “healthcare needs a serious kick in the social media pants”. Though I’d argue as you did, its not just social media – it’s about simplifying the patent experience.

  6. #6 by Kelly on July 29, 2010 - 11:03 am

    Six years ago I found a new doctor and fell in love with the way the practice was run. All of my records (lab results, xrays, visit history, etc.) were available to me through a web portal, I could schedule appointments online, and even visit my doctor virtually. Essentially all that meant was that I emailed him my symptoms, he responded with some questions, I answered, and he then called in a prescription to my pharmacy. This certainly wasn’t about profit—the time he out into the email was roughly equivalent to what he would have spent with me in the office, and the copay was the same—but it was all about customer service. I still miss that practice. And I wonder, if that level of customer service was available using the tools available six years ago, what’s possible with today’s technology?

  7. #7 by Liz Seegert on July 31, 2010 - 6:45 pm

    I just found your blog and am impressed with your well-thought out arguments for use of more social media by health professionals. I do some marketing work with a local hospital and find there are two camps – younger physicians who embrace technology and older practitioners who dislike change.

    I think Mayo’s efforts should be applauded. People often resist the unknown just because it’s different. Educating more physicians (and patients) about social media can only serve to improve patient-physician communication, relations, and transparency.

    • #8 by Kris Kaneta on July 31, 2010 - 10:55 pm

      Liz, thanks so much for your contribution to this post. I’m glad you were able to stumble upon it and share your thoughts. There is definitely a divide between those that embrace technology (i.e. see @PaulFLevy, who’s blog is a must read for healthcare professionals) and those that resist change because of habit or fear of the unknown. And yes, I would agree that in general that divide tends to stem from a generational gap.

      I’d add that whatever fears folks have will not stop consumers from demanding more transparency from their providers; better communication; and of course, better outcomes as a result of all those things. The providers that figure this out will be the front runners in a movement that will inevitably shape healthcare for the better. Here’s to hoping that in a year from now we’re not still talking about Mayo as the lone standout in a sea of laggards.

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