Don't Say You Can't Do It: Social Media and Health 2.0 Tools


Ted Eytan, MD, and Holly Potter, discussed the power of health IT and social media to improve the quality of healthcare.

During their Thursday morning HIMSS presentation “Driving Total Health with Health IT and Health 2.0,” Ted Eytan, MD, from the Permanente Federation, and Holly Potter, vice president of PR for Kaiser Permanente, painted a vivid picture of the power of health IT and social media to improve the quality of healthcare delivered by an integrated health organization, increase patient satisfaction with their care and their care providers, and engage the community to improve communication, recognition, and visibility.

Eytan and Potter stressed the value of health IT as a potentiator for effective healthcare delivery and provided many excellent examples of the ways in which Kaiser uses social media tools to communicate with employees, patients, and the community. Some highlights:

My Health Manager, the patient-facing portion of Kaiser’s HealthConnect EHR has more than 3.5 million users, 40% of whom signed on 11 or more times in 2008. The system has a 91% satisfaction rating and has facilitated greater efficiency in the delivery of care without sacrificing quality: in one Kaiser hospital, in-person visits have decreased 25% while phone and electronic visits have gone up, yet the facility scores in on a variety of quality measures.

Eytan made a key observation: “providing healthcare is inherently social.” This fact often gets lost or obscured, said Eytan, because providers tend to forget that “the person sitting in your exam room is not the only person that needs to be involved in their care.”

Holly Potter said that the most important communications goal for KP is the same as for any organization: How do you tell your story to a wider audience? The value of social media in telling your organization’s story is that it is an excellent way to protect and promote your brand, extend your reach and impact with traditional media, improve organic search results, and ultimately, social media is an unprecedented tool for creating brand champions. The four basic principles of Kaiser’s social media policy are monitoring, responding, pitching, and participating.

Speaking to that last point about creating brand champions, Potter reminded the audience that “Google is king,” and that it not only is going to return information from traditional media sources in search results, it also “pulls in the results of countless online conversations, and if you want your brand and your message to show up in Google search results, you have to be involved in those conversations.” And social media is the number-one driver of those conversations.

Kaiser launched a Facebook page to engage with patients and the community, but quickly realized that their Facebook page is also used by employees to talk back to the organization about what it’s doing right and also what it’s doing wrong. You’re not going to fix everyone’s problem using Facebook, said Potter, but it’s an important mechanism for surfacing and addressing problems as they arise.

Potter reminded the audience that if their organization is going to join in the conversation, they must ensure that they understand what the conversation is—they must understand participants’ context and perspectives and engage them on their terms. Social media users have to be prepared to hear about the bad stuff, too.

Potter and Eytan both admitted that it can be difficult to determine the ROI of social media, because the increase in visibility and opportunity to engage with the community and control the message, etc are intangible. However, Potter did mention several examples of Kaiser using social media channels (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube pages) to promote stories and being able to get an accurate count of the numbers of impressions, downloads, retweets, etc. So there are some metrics that can be accessed.

In the end, the key to an effective social media approach is to use all of the tools at your disposal to interact to build relationships with people who care about the same things you do. It’s up to each group or organization to find unique ways to make social media productive and find the proper balance between organizational control and creative freedom to engage.

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