Twitter Case Study: Finding GPS in a Hospital Haystack

I was in a meeting today with Kim from our Mayo Clinic Quality office discussing how social media and tools like the Flip video camera could be used in her work, and she mentioned that she had heard about a hospital in Texas that was giving GPS units to patients when they checked in, so they could more easily navigate to their appointments.

She said she had been wanting to track down the name of that hospital so she could get in touch and learn from the experience to see whether it’s something we might want to try, but that she didn’t really know where to start looking. So she had procrastinated for a few months at least because, as David Allen says in Getting Things Done, if you don’t know what the next action is, you can never move projects forward to completion.

I asked Kim if she would like to try a little Twitter experiment, right then and there, with me putting out the call for the information on Twitter. She was game, so here was my tweet at 2:27 p.m. today:


Within seven minutes my message had been re-tweeted five times, including these:


…and I also had several other responses telling me about RFID options and a pilot program that puts GPS devices in the shoes of Alzheimer’s patients to help track them if they go wandering.

By 2:39, 12 minutes after my original tweet, I had what I think is likely the definitive answer:


But besides the answer I was seeking, having asked the question on Twitter led to some new alternatives that I think Kim hadn’t been considering.

Lessons and Observations:

  1. Using relevant hashtags is a great way to have your tweet go to people beyond those who follow you directly. In this case I used #hcsm and #hcmktg. I’ve participated more in the former than the latter, but knowing about them enabled me to ask a relevant question in a virtual space where like-minded people gather.
  2. Investing time in Twitter builds capacity for future efficiency. The fact that I was familiar with Twitter, had some followers and knew some appropriate hashtags meant that I could find out in 12 minutes what had stymied Kim for several months. It’s possible that a new Twitter user with a question like that would get an answer, but likely only if a vendor had a Twitter search term set for “GPS.” Twitter isn’t a quick fix; it’s built on relationships. That takes some time, but once you’ve put in some effort you will see that the community will come to your aid.
  3. With Twitter, I didn’t have to know where to start looking, or who to ask. I asked my tweeps, and some of them passed it along to their tweeps. With email I would have had to decide where to send the message. With Twitter the message just seems to find the right people, provided you have started by putting in a little time to start a network.

Thanks to @stephaniethum, @nanoni127, @shamsha, @BethHarte, @JohnSalmonHUP, @josullivan, @lwelchman, @Cascadia, @lisacrymes, @DaphneLeigh, @DynamicRFID, @NickDawson, @tstitt, @mkhendricks, @MikaLofton, @mkmackey, @ljstarnes, and @gelogenic for participating today!

That’s the power of Twitter: 18 people coming together with no notice to discuss a topic and get an answer to a perplexing question (and to suggest other interesting alternatives) in less than an hour.

RAQ: Tips for Selling Hospital Leadership on Social Media?

This is another in the Recently Asked Questions series. I’m glad to answer these via email (and have answered directly in this case), but by de-identifying the person asking the question (to protect confidentiality) and also answering in public I hope to provide a resource for others who may have similar questions. More importantly, it opens the process so if other SMUGgles have tips to share, we all can learn from each other.

So here’s today’s question from “Pat” (not his or her real name):

Hi Lee — I am the Manager, E-Strategy, at ________. While admittedly late to the party, we are preparing to launch an official presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. But first, I have the pleasant task of selling our CEO and other senior leaders on the concept and benefits of social media. Do you have any resources/advice about how best to gain leadership buy-in? I’m not anticipating that it’s going to be a tough sell, but if there are any proven methods/pitfalls to avoid, I’d love to learn.

Dear Pat:

My presentations last week (embedded here and here) offer some basic guidance. I’d invite you to check them out. In essence, start by using social media tools to improve the efficiency of what you’re already doing (e.g. shooting Flip video for news releases and posting that to your Facebook site and YouTube channel…or just using the video to record your interviews and thereby do a better job of writing your old-fashioned text-based news releases). Use low-cost or no-cost tools so the out-of-pocket cost is negligible. Then when you get success at almost no cost you can build on that to extend into further applications.

If word-of-mouth plays any role at all in patients’ decisions to use your facilities (and it surely does), then social media will be a powerful means of spreading that word. You will be able to tell stories and describe treatments and services in much more detail than you could through mainstream media. And if you are spending anything on paid advertising, you can pay for your social media programs by channeling a tiny fraction of that budget. 

At Mayo Clinic we have been able to use social media tools to help tell stories, which has led to significant news coverage in the mainstream media, such as this story in yesterday’s Des Moines Register. And sometimes, as in this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, we’ve had news stories about our social media efforts.

I’d also recommend you refer to Ed Bennett’s listing of other hospitals using social media to show your leadership that many others have begun using social media tools.

Finally, I wouldn’t exactly say you’re “late to the party.” I think there are something like 5,000 hospitals in the U.S., and Ed’s list has 250 using social media. You will still be on the earlier side of the adoption curve, and should be able to move relatively quickly since there are some examples of others to emulate and build upon. 

How about the rest of you? What advice could you offer “Pat” in selling social media to hospital leadership?

Alltop Releases New Top Hospital News Site


Alltop Top Hospital News Page
Alltop Top Hospital News Page

In response to suggestions raised in the #hcsm group discussion on Twitter, Alltop has created a new site,, that aggregates RSS feeds of news releases from several top hospitals. You might want to bookmark or “favorite” it.

For people working in healthcare public relations, it’s a good way to see at a glance what kind of news your peers are releasing. It’s also a good news source for others interested in healthcare news. Besides Mayo Clinic, other institutions featured at launch include University of Maryland Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, Sutter Medical Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Aurora Health Care and about 20 others. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Alltop, check out my earlier post, “Alltop: RSS without the RSS.”

Thanks to @guykawasaki and the Alltop team for creating this site, and to Tom Stitt (@tstitt) for his leadership in helping to make it happen.

Facebook 302: Facebook for Medical Support Groups

Sites like CarePages and CaringBridge have been developed to meet important needs for hospitalized patients and their families and friends.

But Facebook, as a powerful general-purpose social networking site, may prove to be an even more useful alternative to these dedicated patient communication sites.

I will start by describing the very real needs CarePages and similar sites meet, and then discuss how Facebook can meet those needs.

Continue reading “Facebook 302: Facebook for Medical Support Groups”