Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it


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Talking to aging patients

With baby boomers now eligible to be members in the AARP, talking to an aging population is a challenge for health care providers. Here’s a great post from the folks at Writer Girl Associations, called “How to speak to your elderly patients.”

http://www.writergirl.com/speak-elderly-patients/

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Supporting an important cause, and an inspiring woman

I don’t know about you, but this summer has been a whirlwind.  When we moved to our new home in June, I don’t think we knew just how much work we were in for. It has been three steady months of projects and work and painting and decorating and renovating and shopping and cleaning and rearranging. Needless to say, my blog and any summer fun took a back seat to what needed to be done (thanks to a bit of an obsessive personality trait!). But now, summer is over, the house is in really good shape, and now it’s time for me to get back to blogging.

Last week, as I was trying to catch up on some personal emails and reading, I came across a request from a total stranger. It was a simple request — to help spread the word about the 10th annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26. For anyonheathere who reads my blog, you know I don’t usually post about specific medical conditions. But I truly believe that a big part of blogging and social media is to make use of it to bring attention to things that deserve it. And when I read the request, didn’t I feel silly lamenting about missing some fun this summer.

When Heather Von St. James reached out to me, I was truly honored. Her request was a simple one, and I am doing my best to fulfill her request and have a small part in sharing her story, all in the hopes that you will pass this along. Let’s make this go viral!

Mesothelioma is relatively rare and is caused by asbestos exposure.  Each year, 3000 people are diagnosed with it. In 2005, Heather was only 36 when she was diagnosed, shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Lily. At the time, she was given only 15 months to live. Eight years later, and one lung less, she is now not only surviving, but thriving and is leading a cause to spread the word about mesothelioma — a disease thdid you knowat is preventable but takes many lives.

I have spent my entire career in the healthcare communications field. But the decades do not diminish the emotions that I feel every time I see someone who has won their own personal battle, or the tear(s) I shed when I learn of someone whose life was cut short, usually too soon. I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I have not had to find out how I would react were I to receive such a diagnosis. I can only hope that I would have the strength and courage to fight the same way Heather did and so many others I have had the good fortune to meet over the years.

So when Heather reached out to me for help, I was honored to have an opportunity to help spread the word about this cause and to highlight what an inspiration this woman is. You can read much more about Heather here and you can also learn more about mesothelioma.  It’s incredible to see how well she’s doing, and so admirable to see how she has taken her own experience to help prevent others from going through what she has.

I hope readers of this blog will be as inspired as I was by her strength and perseverance, and will help to spread the word as well.


					
		
	


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Why people use social media as their personal soapbox and why hospitals should care

business man with laptop over head - mad

Years ago, when someone was unhappy about a product or service, the response was typically to call a customer service department or write a letter to the editor. Of course they also complained to family and friends – and that word-of-mouth bad advertising went a long way.

Today, social media gives people a powerful voice to share their thoughts, good or bad, about any topic under the sun, and be heard like never before.. Think about that. One person behind a keyboard or with a smartphone in his or her hand has the potential to be heard by millions of people around the world. It sort of boggles the mind when you think about it, doesn’t it?

So with that potential reach, it’s no wonder that when someone is disgruntled, they’re heading to their favorite social media networks to post a complaint, a photo or a video showing bad service or poor judgment (think Dominos pizza) by employees. It’s the place to go to complain, unless, of course, you’re in the “business” of social media. Then you might think twice about it as I recently did.

Just a few weeks ago, my dad was hospitalized in a very scary 10-day stay at a hospital. That hospital is part of the health system for which I work AND manage its social media. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad Dad was there and received the care he did and is now home. The doctors and staff were wonderful, but there were some things that just didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked.

Being an employee, I knew who to call to talk about it. But if I wasn’t, I probably would have taken to social media to make a comment or two. Then I thought of the many patients and their family members who find themselves in a hospital each year. According to the CDC statistics, more than 35 million people are hospitalized every year. The statistics here show that about 54 percent of people are on social networks. That means almost 19 million of those people are using social media. How many of those 19 million people do you suppose would know who to contact in a hospital if they weren’t happy about their care?

In this day and age, the chances that a disgruntled and unhappy patient will take to social media to vent and be heard are pretty good. We know people want to be voice their opinions, especially when it comes to their health, and what they see as bad care.  Think about the bad advertising that can result from those posts. Think about the potential reach of those social postings. It’s no wonder that people are hopping on their social media soapboxes to complain when they’re not happy with their hospital care.

Now let’s remember this: out of a total of 5,724 hospitals in the U.S., only 1,501 are using some form of social media. That’s only about 26 percent of hospitals. (There’s an interesting infographic here on how hospitals are using social media these days, and of course there’s the big list of hospitals on the Mayo Clinic Social Media Health Network.).

Those negative comments can certainly impact your hospital’s reputation and brand image. After all, word of mouth advertising is very strong. When it comes from friends or family, it’s even stronger. The 26 percent of hospitals using social media might catch those negative posts and complaints, and then be able to respond and do something about it to reverse potential damage to the brand. If they’re NOT in social media at all, then there’s no chance of responding. Let’s just hope the post, photo or video doesn’t go viral.

When you think of it in these terms, it’s easy to see why hospitals, and any brand in any industry, must consider being part of today’s social networks. How do you deal with unhappy patients/customers on your social networks?

(This post was originally written for and was published on http://www.hospitalimpact.org on 8/15/2013.)


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The world needs more doctors like this

apple stethescopeI love my job because every day I must browse through all kinds of news and information from a variety of sources. Mostly it’s to stay up to date on hot topics in health and technology. The health side is for posting things on social media for work. The technology is so I can try to stay on top of my game. As I was going through emails and news items recently, I came across a headline I found intriguing. I had no idea it would lead to this blog post.

I’ve been in healthcare communications for over 25 years. In that time, I’ve met more doctors than I can count. Doctors are just like ordinary people, because, well, they ARE people. They all have their own personality traits. Some are more approachable than others. Some are a bit less humble. Some are always right and should never be questioned. Like I said, just like ordinary people.

And then there are the doctors who learn a lesson that makes them into an even better doctor. I was introduced to Dr. Peter Attia thanks to the headline, “Is the obesity crisis hiding a bigger problem?” I’ve decided the world needs more doctors like him.

The video from a Ted Talk is a little long, but so worth watching. In it, Attia talks about how he held a patient in “such bitter contempt” because she was overweight and diabetic. He never “questioned the conventional wisdom,” as he explains. Years later the tables turned. Suddenly he was the patient, suffering from metabolic syndrome, despite eating right and exercising.

That experience led him to rethink everything he had been taught and believed in as that conventional wisdom and the science behind nutrition, exercise and obesity. Now, he’s fighting all that conventional wisdom about obesity. He believes it may actually be the symptom of a bigger problem that is not apparent at first glance. That’s especially true when a doctor attributes obesity to being the patient’s own fault, as he once did.  It has all led him to new research on obesity and diabetes, and I just sense it will prove to be a major finding and turn the medical field upside down at some point soon.

What got to me most of all, though, is how emotional he got when discussing that night and that patient so many years ago. He’s incredibly remorseful because he feels that patient did not get the compassion she so deserved — that same compassion he showed other patients.

I can think of some doctors who could use a little lesson in humility, and compassion. It might make them better doctors, and better people too.


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Physicians are not your (Facebook) friends

Doctors on Facebook -- is it a good idea? (photo by j.reed)

When you’re sick, hopefully the first person you call is your physician. In that sense, he or she IS your friend. But unless you’ve got a standing relationship with your physician outside the exam room, that’s where the “friendship” should end.

But in today’s socially connected world, physicians who are on Facebook with personal accounts may find themselves receiving “friend” requests from patients. While there are policies in the works from several agencies like the American Medical Association, nothing has yet to be formalized. While there are several sources for guiding physicians, like this article from FiercePracticeManagement, many physicians are still left in a quandary. As a result, several of our physicians have asked us what they should do. We worked with our legal department to develop some guidelines for our doctors to consider if and when they receive these request

Although this goes against the social media “be social!” mantra, first and foremost, we have recommended that they not accept the friend request, based on a few simple facts. The first is obvious: physicians must maintain patient privacy and confidentiality at all times, and while that’s easy to do in a hospital or office setting, the lines can become a bit blurred when it comes to the world of Facebook. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a patient to initiate a conversation on a Facebook wall that could cross the line, thereby eroding the boundaries of the physician-patient relationship, and possibly even threatening ethical standards because of the casual nature of communication on the social network.

We also have asked physicians to keep in mind that accepting friend requests from patients will allow those patients to see personal information and have a glimpse into the private lives of the physicians. Unless the privacy settings are tweaked carefully, patients who are now Facebook friends would be privy to the doctor’s conversations with friends, or see the photos of dinner and cocktails last weekend. It could change the professional image and reputation of a physician if a patient can see into the private and/or social life of a physician.

I recognize that this may go against the grain, but we felt it was in our physicians’ best interests to keep their personal and professional lives separate. On the other hand, if they were to establish a Facebook account for their practice, I believe that would involve a totally different set of guidelines.

I’m very interested to hear how other hospital marketers and social media managers are advising their physicians. Share your thoughts!

This post was written for an originally appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org.


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Managing a hospital crisis in the new media world

A crisis. Most hospitals have one at some point. If your organization hasn’t faced one yet, it will. Whether a local disaster fills your ED to overflowing or a sentinel event occurs and makes the headlines, your staff and your board will need to know what happened, and the media will probably be camped outside your front door. For the communications team, it’s all hands on deck.

While every situation is unique, when it comes to communication surrounding a crisis, there are general rules that apply to all. I believe that being visible, honest and timely are the most important.

In a crisis, the last thing you should do is assume it will all blow over, or that word will not get out. Definitely not true, particularly in the age of Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media. Playing possum will not make the situation go away. To use an old advertising tagline, “inquiring minds want to know.”

When something happens in a hospital, you need to quickly assess the situation, develop your course of action and key messages, identify the best spokesperson and address the situation head on.

If you’re not visible and discussing the matter publicly, you’re leaving the facts open to interpretation. So many recent scandals provide the support for this argument. Consider Tiger Woods, who still hasn’t spoken publicly, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who disappeared for days and was less than candid about his whereabouts. This isn’t exactly the best approach when responding to a crisis.

Being honest
While there may be details that should not or cannot be made publicly known about the situation at hand, recognizing the situation, taking responsibility for the event and providing the overall facts are absolutely for any crisis response, regardless of your audience.

A crisis can damage a reputation quickly, but not recognizing the crisis or not responding can be even more damaging. An appropriate response can go a long way to maintaining or rebuilding trust.

Of course while some things are more easily forgiven than others, an “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward rebuilding trust with your community (consider the legislation now being proposed to make the “I’m sorry” clause for doctors a law). Public recognition of the situation and the apology must come from a trusted source, and determining the appropriate spokesperson can greatly impact the success of your crisis communication response.

Being timely
The concept of “timely” has changed quite a bit in recent years. Five years ago, your crisis response would be timed to a news cycle, with your internal audiences of staff and the hospital board notified in advance of the general public. But that news cycle no longer exists with the rise of social media. Information flows 24/7 and it is not from typical news sources. The emergency plan landing on New York’s Hudson River and news of Michael Jackson’s death, for example, were both reported first on Twitter.

When a crisis happens in your hospital, there are lots of people examining the situation from many angles – senior leaders, risk management, legal, medial directors, communications/media relations, etc. This will have an impact on just how timely you can be, but it is the communications professional’s responsibility to produce the right communications at the right time.

Given today’s myriad of communication tools, you should make use of all of them to get your response out there. If you provide a statement to the media, post it on your web site. If you have a recorded message from your president, post that on your web site and link to it through Twitter. If you have a Facebook account, post your video there and post your official statement on your Facebook fan page.

Remember — it’s about being visible, honest and timely. And because of the way news is now communicated, you must assume that your audience is not just local anymore. Sending a statement to your local television station or doing an interview with your hometown paper is not an adequate response. In a true crisis, you can expect e-mails and web postings from people internationally who may have never heard your brand name before, but they will now. That is the world we live in today.

So those are the basic rules. Are they always followed in every situation? Unfortunately, no, but they should be!

This post was originally written for and appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org.


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Social media and fundraising are a two-way street

In any given webinar or lecture on social media, you’ll hear that if used correctly, it can be an incredible tool for hospitals that want to build a conversation with our patients and the community, hearing what people want and how we can improve our services, offering health information for the general public, communicating timely information in a crisis, building loyalty for our brand and even supporting fundraising efforts.

For the past year, the hospitals of the Lifespan health system have maintained Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a YouTube channel for the system as a whole. Along the way, we’ve found things that are successful and some things that don’t work so well.

On Twitter, we’ve learned to be less self-promotional, almost to the point of really not promoting ourselves. Instead, we are doing things that will engage more people, like asking questions to start a conversation, responding to conversations, finding people to follow who share common interests, retweeting good health information, and recommending people to follow the Twitter #FollowFriday tradition in which Twitter users on Fridays recommend people to follow for good information.

On Facebook, we are engaging our fans by being much more personal, asking questions, wishing them good weekends, and asking for personal stories. We have found that this really is working to increase engagement with our fans and followers because THAT is the social side of social media. And engagement is the true measure of success, not the number of fans or followers you might have.

As non-profit hospitals, we’ve had some fundraising events that we were promoting through these avenues. Of course it was slow going for a while, but a recent event for Hasbro Children’s Hospital taught us a lesson: not only can you gain more awareness of an event through social media, but in return you are more actively engaged with the community and you gain more fans/followers with whom you can engage. That’s a nice outcome that we didn’t see coming!

Each year, Hasbro Children’s Hospital holds a radiothon in partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network and a fantastic local radio group, Citadel Broadcasting. We of course tweeted the event in advance and posted updates and teasers on our Facebook page. During the event, we were live tweeting, posting photos, and doing regular updates with photos on our Facebook page. Of course we were also linking to the streaming broadcasts of the radiothon on the three radio station websites that were involved in the radiothon and sending those out via Twitter and Facebook.

So what were the results?

This year, the total raised increased by about $50,000 over last year’s total before we launched our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Can we attribute the growth directly to social media? Well, no, but we can guess that it certainly helped. The more interesting results came with the impact to our social media accounts. While we suspected our social media efforts might help to increase awareness of the radiothon, we didn’t expect that the radiothon would impact our engagement within social media. During the month of the radiothon, the hospital’s Twitter account saw 60 new followers (an 8 percent increase) and had one of its highest months of engagement to date.

More surprising was the Facebook account for the hospital. That month, we increased our fans by 1,077, a 70 percent increase, with 80 percent of those new fans joining us during the radiothon or in the days immediately following it. The personal stories, “thank you’s” and other comments began flooding our fan page, and from that, we have already lined up media stories and potential patient stories for next year’s radiothon.

The biggest gain is the connection we are making with real people. People who have experienced what it is like to have a child who needs the care of a pediatric hospital are telling their own stories honestly and openly. It is no longer about a brand, it’s about people. And that, in a nutshell is what social media is all about–connecting with people.

It’s not always easy to dive into social media, especially for a relatively conservative industry like health care. More hospitals are joining the ranks, and there are some clear leaders out there, but we’re all learning together. And while we can use social media outlets to promote our fundraising events, the return on investment is exponential when you consider that you’re actually meeting the people you care for, and getting a better understanding of why you’re really here–to help people.

So now I’m curious. If you’re using social media, what has your experience connecting with your fans and followers been like? And, if you’re not using social media, what’s holding you back?

This post was originally written for and appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org.