MGMA's Web 2.0 Session: An Eye-opening Experience

October 11, 2009
Sean Johnson

Today's MGMA session on Web 2.0 was a very interesting session to sit in on, not only because of the subject matter, but also because of the audience interaction.

Andy Steggies began today’s presentation on Web 2.0 by taking a few polls. He asked 30-35 participants whether or not they had ever heard the phrase Web 2.0. Two or three people reluctantly raised their hand. Surely Steggies, a social media guru and ex-risk management agent, was expecting to have many newbies in his presentation, but even he was shocked at the lack of the attendees’ familiarity with such a frequently used term as Web 2.0. That set the stage for some follow-up questions, such as “Has anyone here ever created a Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter account or page?” Naturally, the response was the same — no one who would have ever created any of these profiles would be unfamiliar with “Web 2.0.”

Steggies used this as a starting point to try and accentuate the necessity of becoming involved in social media. He challenged the audience to go home today and to take the time to create a Facebook page and to become more familiar with social media in general. He dispelled the common myths that come along with social media, specifically Facebook, telling the audience that he knows they “are not looking to reconnect with people in high school that they never really liked anyway.” Although that received a bit of laughter from attendees, it still seemed like many listeners, who generally fell into the mid-30s to early-60s age range, were unable to believe him.

Steggies also made it a point to mention that, in the healthcare industry, it was very necessary for professionals to be involved on LinkedIn, and made the general distinction to listeners that LinkedIn was specifically professional and that it was an excellent way to form professional relationships. There were a couple questions from the audience, and seeing as there were no follow-up questions regarding Facebook, it seems docs were much more interested in LinkedIn based on its strictly professional theme.

The discussion then shifted to the reasons why all of these physician-attendees need to become involved in social networking. Steggies found an excellent website online to do some of the dirty work for him. After typing in www.commoncraft.com, he found a video entitled “Social Networking in Plain English,” a short and succinct clip that the audience listened intently to. (This site should be bookmarked for anyone looking to better understand the reasons to become involved in social networking — there are several videos explaining everything from Facebook to Twitter.) The gist of the video was that real-life networking was inferior to social networking because, in real-life, networks are unseen. They may have limitless potential, but that potential would be hard to reach without knowing how far one’s network extends. Online social networking eliminates this problem; users can befriend friends and friends of friends, etc, and also follow the information that all these people post. The example given in the video is a person who is searching for a job, and is able to find someone in their network online to help them, whereas this particular person would not have been contacted in real life (ie, friend of a friend).

Steggies continued the discussion after the video by explaining how blogs can help direct traffic to a professional website, and went over some common tips and tricks to optimize a blog or site for search engines. While encouraging those in the audience to start blogging and to really get involved to discover limitless potential for a practice or business, he simultaneously explained that users should also visit other similar blogs and post comments and join in the discussion elsewhere, which would be another way to garner more traffic and attention.

While I found Steggies to be very knowledgeable and passionate about social media, his enthusiasm may have been a bit too much. The audience seemed a bit overwhelmed with the amount of “homework” he was giving them. Keep in mind, attendees had never heard the phrase “Web. 2.0.” To go out and ask them to create Facebook page, start a Twitter account, join LinkedIn, initiate a blog, and comment all over the Internet was a bit ambitious, not to mention that there were some serious barriers to overcome before some of the physicians in the session would even consider dipping into social networking.

In fact, the session got somewhat heated when his numerous suggestions segued into a discussion about how physicians should be cognizant about what might already be written about them/their practice online. Steggies mentioned that physicians had two options in dealing with patients who wrote about these things: embrace or ignore. By ignoring, physicians run the risk of having their reputation damaged by anonymous posters. However, the second the idea of embracing and responding was raised, several attendees lashed out about how there’s no accountability on the Internet and that they hesitate to engage on anything discussed here today because of the legal ramifications. Steggies, not indigenous to the healthcare field, understood their concerns but did not really have an answer for them. The pitchforks continued to be pointed in his direction, as one physician expressed his discontent from all social media, including e-mail. He went on to say that all of these social media tools being used today completely strip the humanistic element of interaction and often times lead to misinterpretations of tone. Many others in the audience shook their heads in agreement, but the conversation was left without closure as Steggies merely sympathized with their plight, not knowing how to respond to concerns that have yet to be formally addressed anywhere. Patients will continue to write about doctors online, and doctors run the risk of legal problems if they aggressively to defend their reputation.

When it was all said and done, it seemed like many physicians want to learn more about social media, but they would like to be better protected if they are going to do so. In addition, the amount of time it takes to successfully benefit a practice through social media is worrisome for some physicians who already have a jam-packed schedule. One suggestion might be to hire a social media guru to help elevate awareness of a practice or organization online, especially in the healthcare industry, but then this becomes another cost.

And so the paradox continues — it’s highly necessary and beneficial for docs to learn what social media can do for them, but it takes time that they often do not have. If only there were a session at MGMA that would instruct physicians on how to create six more hours in a day. Maybe I’ll create a Facebook fan page for that…