See-Through Corporations

Chris Anderson is starting a writing project in Wired on the new trend in business away from the traditional mode of secrecy and limited disclosure, and toward what he calls “Radical Transparency.”

The default communications mode of companies has traditionally been top-down, with only executives and official spokespeople permitted to discuss company business in public. The standard rule, explicit or not, was “That which we choose not to announce is not to be spoken about.” Aside from some special exemptions, such as conferences where those employees trusted enough to go chatted guardedly with outsiders, employees were cautioned that what happened at work should stay at work. Loose lips sink ships, etc.

As Edelman has reported, “a person like me” is now the most trusted source of information, surpassing even doctors and academic experts. And thanks to the web it is now easier than ever to pick the brains of “people like me.”

I think this is one of those “it depends” situations, though. I agree that people generally trust the opinion of a rank-and-file employee more than a corporate spokesperson, but the credibility of a physician is still extremely high, especially a specialist speaking to an issue in which he or she has expertise.

In my work in media relations, we guard the credibility of both Mayo Clinic and our physicians by not putting them in a position to comment on something that isn’t in their area of special training. We also produce syndicated news content, which is reviewed not only by the subject expert being featured but also by a medical editor, so consumers aren’t just getting one person’s opinion, but a team consensus.

And, of course, we have federal patient privacy laws (which essentially codified what was our practice) that also limit what can be disclosed. Our policy always has been to protect patient privacy unless they choose to make their stories public. The real change now is the advent of blogging by patients and family members, with people telling the story of their health care experience directly to the world.

Word-of-mouth always has been an important way for people to learn about Mayo Clinic, either from patients or from physicians whose patients have come here. Patient blogs are, to borrow a phrase I found 659 times in a quick Google search:

Google search

“Word of Mouth on Steroids.”

And sites like CarePages and CaringBridge are specifically designed to make it easier for patients and their families to more efficiently stay in touch with concerned family and friends.

This is a trend that will only accelerate. Conversations that were formerly one-to-one will be taking place in a much more public arena, at least for some patients (or for businesses, customers) who choose to tell their stories. That makes it even more crucial for businesses and health care providers to at least be listening to what’s being said in blogs, and joining the conversation when appropriate.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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