Social Technologies in Health Care – Part IV

In Part III of this series, I offered a recommendation for health care associations with regard to Twitter:

Create a Twitter account for your association, if only for defensive purposes. Use Twitterfeed to automatically tweet. 

I think that was fine, as far as it went, and I think it is an essential step. But in the last two months I have seen immense potential for beneficial engagement by actively becoming involved with Twitter at the organizational level. It needs to be more than just a defensive measure.

I see Twitter being valuable not just for communication with members, but also for outreach to people who share your organization’s goals but may not yet be members. I believe it’s really worth your time to understand it, and to that end recommend the SMUG Twitter curriculum (or for an overview, going through the #tweetcamp2 course, for which the slides and accompanying videos from the Webcast archive  are embedded below.)

Social Technologies in Health Care – Part III

Note: This is the third in a series of posts based on material I provided in advance for  a two-part panel in March sponsored by ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, “Social Technologies in Healthcare: Applications, Implications and What’s Next?

Question Three: How should medical associations/societies capitalize on social technologies in their work?

Societies and their members should get hands-on experience with social tools so they can see for themselves what the most productive uses would be. If they are concerned about HIPAA or patient privacy concerns, start by using the tools within your organization, apart from any direct patient-care application.

With that appropriate disclaimer, I’’ll offer a few practical steps to help you get started, and while step 5 may be most important I put it last so that you don’’t get so hung up in strategy that you don’’t do anything.

  1. Use the tools to help run the associations and as an added member benefit. Build outposts on the general-purpose social networking sites, particularly Facebook.
  2. Create a YouTube channel. Feature your members. Encourage them to create YouTube channels. Subscribe to each other’s’ channels and become “friends.” “Favorite” each other’s’ videos.
  3. Create a Twitter account for your association, if only for defensive purposes. Use Twitterfeed to automatically tweet. 
  4. Create one or more blogs. You’’ve got a Web site, right? That’s all a blog is: an easy-to-publish Web site that allows comments, interaction and sharing. You can make your blogs part of your site, or you can have your blog become your site.
  5. Think about how you will tie them all together into a coherent strategy. But don’t let yourself become paralyzed, waiting until you have the perfect strategy before you execute anything. You’ll learn as you go, and these tools are highly reconfigurable. But it’s a lot easier to modify your direction if you’re already moving than it is to get going from a dead stop. So start.

It won’t surprise SMUGgles that I advised diving in and getting hands-on experience. While not necessarily disagreeing, Frank Fortin, one of my fellow panelists, highly commended the POST method as outlined by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. I agree that this framework is helpful and also recommend reading Groundswell, but think the first step should be developing personal familiarity with the tools so you can envision potential applications for your organization.

I originally answered these questions about a month in advance of an event that was about a month ago, so my thinking has continued to evolve. In the final post in this series, I will highlight at least one area in which I now think a more aggressive strategy is in order.

Social Technologies in Health Care

In late March, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-part panel sponsored by ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, “Social Technologies in Healthcare: Applications, Implications and What’s Next?”  I did a recap post of the event here.

To set up the conversation, each of the panelists were asked to respond to a series of questions. I thought it would be helpful to post here the answers I provided there. I don’t know that they’re profound, and I hope they’re not totally unique, because then I’d be seriously off base. And as always, what you see written here is my perspective, and doesn’t represent my employer.

Question One: What is your long-term vision for the impact of social technologies on health care?

Social technologies already are important in health care, in that they give voice to individuals and enable them to connect with others who have similar experiences, conditions and concerns. Word of mouth has always been important in health and health care, dating back even to biblical times when reports of miraculous healings would cause thousands to gather on a hillside in Galilee. So it’’s no surprise that patients are using powerful social technologies to spread the word about their health care experiences.

Patients also are forming virtual communities and support groups that overcome geographic barriers. It has been impractical to form many of these communities of interest locally because the conditions are too unusual to provide for a critical mass of individuals with common interests. But social technologies eliminate these barriers to group formation and enable patients to learn from each other.

In the longer term, we must find ways to incorporate social technologies into management of chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes. The shortage of primary care physicians will worsen, calling for more emphasis on mid-level providers. But nurses and physician assistants (PAs) will be in short supply as well.

It will be physically impossible to provide quality management for a growing population of Baby Boomers with chronic conditions, even with increased reliance on mid-level providers. But virtually it may be possible. And since many of those conditions are substantially influenced by behavior, peer networks mediated by social technologies have potential, with appropriate medical provider involvement, to provide social support to reduce the burden of disease.

Healthcare Associations and Social Networks

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to participate in a two-part panel discussion on Healthcare and Social Technologies, sponsored by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership. It was part of the organization’s first Healthcare Association Conference, bringing together leadership from many different medically oriented associations. Acronym, which is ASAE & the Center’s aptly-named blog, has posts recapping session one and session two.

Ordinarily when I attend a conference I try to live-blog the sessions I attend, and for my presentation I create a post in advance to publish just before my session. But this was such a fast-moving discussion (even though the two sessions were 2.5 hours with an hour of that as Q&A, I think they could have gone much longer), that it wasn’t possible for me as a panelist to even surreptitiously tweet.

So I’m writing what I think will be a few posts with observations and highlights of the sessions from my perspective, a few days after having arrived home from Baltimore, having digested both the discussion and Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?, which also has important related implications for associations and healthcare.

Big Idea #1: As Frank Fortin, Communications Director for the Massachusetts Medical Society (which publishes the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine) said, “Associations need to figure out what business they’re in.” He has a blog post to that effect here.

By confusing how they do their business with what it really is, businesses lose perspective of why they got customers in the first place. They build their businesses around the artifact of the transaction, rather than on the value they deliver.

What is the business of the association? You might argue it’s publishing journals, holding conferences, or doing trade shows. But you would be wrong – very wrong.

I’m sure no medical journal is more lucrative than the one Frank’s organization publishes. But as Jarvis says, “Beware the cash cow in the coal mine.” Often the existing business model hamstrings organizations, keeping them from exploring new services lest they “cannibalize” their current profitable operations. But again, as Jarvis points out, if you resist cannibalizing your own profitable products or services, that just means another organization will feast on yours.

The example of Craigslist and newspaper classified ads is appropriate here, and it’s one I mentioned in the session. I recall paying north of $2,500 a few years ago for a job-recruitment ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Then came in with price of a few hundred dollars, and its candidate pool wasn’t limited geographically as the newspaper’s was. And now Craigslist makes the ad free in most markets, or at most the charge is $25.

Great for employers. Bad for newspapers. They (understandably) wanted to milk the cash cow as long as they could. But now the damage is irreversible in the loss of classified ads, because how could they possibly undercut the free service Craigslist provides?

Here’s the topper, as Jarvis noted (quoting the Wall Street Journal) in his “Inefficient Print” post on Buzzmachine:

Last March, Baylor Health Care System, a large Dallas-based nonprofit, began purchasing keywords on Google, Yahoo and employment-related search engines and The search-engine ads generated more applicants, at less cost, than the other recruiting methods, says Eileen Bouthillet, director of human resources communications.

In the first six months of the program, Ms. Bouthillet says, the search-engine ads delivered 5,250 applicants, at an average cost of $4. By contrast, Baylor paid an average of $30 for each of the 3,125 applicants who came via job boards, and $750 each for the 215 applicants who replied to a newspaper or magazine ad.

As a result, Ms. Bouthillet says Baylor has reduced spending on job boards and print ads. . . .

Was that last line really necessary?

Application: As we discussed in our sessions, social networking tools have the capability of providing many of the benefits members have traditionally received from belonging to associations. If associations don’t provide for easy connection among their members, someone else will.

So think about what business you’re in, and what unique value you can provide to your members. Take into account where they are on the spectrum of social media propensity, as outlined in Groundswell, so you don’t create platforms your members won’t use. 

You may want to use general purpose sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, or create-your-own social network sites like Ning, or even one of the many so-called “white label” alternatives that let you create a standalone network. Or maybe what you really need is a blog.

But realize that in a world in which establishing and re-establishing connections is ridiculously easy (as the 29 members of my Austin High School Class of 1981 group in Facebook can attest), these tools are not just a threat to your current business model, but are great potential aids to help your organization (and its members) accomplish the goals you all share.