Health Care Social Media: Let’s DO IT Already!

Tomorrow I’m heading into Boston for Jeff Pulver’s 140Conf (stands for 140 Character Conference), an all day conference about using Twitter and the emerging real time internet to influence business.

I’m particularly excited to hear about Real Time Education and a panel talk about Social Health. I have friends I’ve met on line and IRL (in real life) attending and it should be a fun and informative day. Let me just add that I’m able to attend because this conference is local and affordable (less than $150). The speakers are folks who do social media every day to work better, smarter and do good things for their communities.

Contrast this to how the health care profession is approaching social media and educating their providers. Concurrent to 140Conf here in Boston, the Mayo Clinic is Hosting Transform 2010: Thinking Differently About Health Care. This is a 3 day conference with a bevvy of experts who I don’t know. This is neither good nor bad, I just haven’t seem them in my Twitter-sphere. Most are administrators or “founders” of some important organization or software. I don’t really know how these individuals use social media to help patients. This conference costs $800 to attend. It’s in Minnesota so if I wanted to go, I would incur travel costs probably equaling at least the cost of the entry fee.

But, fear not, because on the local front The Center for Connected Health will be hosting the 2010 Connected Health Symposium in Boston Oct 21 and 22. Super duper, except for the fact that it will cost me a whopping $950 to attend! The sessions here look very interesting, but again, most of the speakers don’t seem to be using social media as much as they are studying it and talking about it. E-patient Dave will be there, so that is a nod to actual patients who use social media to gather health care information online, but the rest of the workshops look high on “talk about it”, rather than “this is how we do it.”

Score 1 for Business

In my opinion, the business community has it right, give the public and the professionals conferences that are accessible (in terms of location and cost) and feature “experts” as well as everyday people who are using the technology to make life better for their clients and themselves.

Health care of the other hand, cordons off their learning to those who can afford these huge conference fees and who want to hear academics explore research ABOUT connected health. Who does that benefit? (Just asking, I don’t have the answer).

Those of us who have attended graduate school to be smart at healing others need to embrace the fact that transforming and connecting in health care means we actually need to (stay with me here): TRANSFORM and CONNECT. We talk to each other. We close the doors to new learning to those who work for organizations that can afford to pay astronomical conference fees. We gather a bunch of people who are smart with the research and statistics to hear their take, rather than invite actual patients into the room and say, “Hey, how can we help you using that awesome smart phone you have in your hand 16 hours a day?”

Health care is amazingly DISCONNECTED from this social media revolution, we just think we’re more down with the people because we have cooler conference titles. The format, structure and tone of all this “innovation” remains the same, however. We have experts, patients need to wait outside in the waiting room until we invite you in.

[Side note to those freaking out because I’m not revering research. YES, we need the research and the experts. They are doing good important work. But I’m annoyed that it’s not easily accessible AND we need to be talking to and hearing from more people than just the researchers, CEOs and investors…]

Real Change

I’d love to see health care professionals start walking their talk and DO social media. Enough talking and navel gazing. We get it: confidentialtiy, time crunch, what’s the ROI and the point of the whole “social” thing? All good questions and concerns that no one can answer until someone actually starts using the tools. No one made the world a better place by saying over and over again, “I wonder if you can develop a vaccine that eliminates polio? Hm..waht do you think? Should we, shouldn’t we? What will people THINK or SAY? Let’s keep talking about it, OK?” And the Apple execs don’t spend months talking about the next new awesome app or phone or pad. They say, “Hey, iPad, awesome idea, let’s do it! You, go and get a team together to make this thing real!” And they DO.

How to DO

Social media and connected health has the potential to change the world of health care as we know it. This concept alone can be perceived as big and scary. But we can start small and that is what I’d like us to do.

Here are a few ideas to start:

  • Pull together a small team of like minded colleagues and start a small social media experiment. Maybe its having a small beta group to test how text messaging helps diabetics manage their blood sugar, or it’s using Tweets to remind group members to keep a feelings or food journal. Keep the numbers small, have a hypothesis about how it might benefit patients, keep basic stats. But most importantly, talk to the patients about their experience and assess how it benefited them physically and psychologically. [Here someone is now thinking “I don’t have TIME for this….but you’re creative and can find a way, I know you can. Students are social media savvy and may enjoy this type of thing–just saying…]
  • Plan out the social media program. I often get the sense that health care professionals think that they have to just jump into social media without thought to ethics or safety. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just as you would ensure any ethical intervention, so too on social media. Plan for confidentiality (if that’s important), have people sign the liability waivers, plan the intervention to be safe physically and psychologically. Don’t just wing it. Plan it.
  • Let’s have the health care equivalent of 140Conf. How about we pull together 10 health care professionals using social media in their practices and ask 10 patients USING social media to come to a conference? Then we get them all in a room, give them a mic, and LISTEN to what they’re doing, what works and doesn’t. We charge a reasonable fee so anyone who’s interested in learning more can come. And afterward, we head to a local pub for informal networking. Would you attend a conference like that?

Health care has talked about social media for years and now we need to shift into making it real and helping our patients and clients where they live in the plugged in world. We can do this, don’t you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *