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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More changes in Facebook and “Heartbleed” – what you should know

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Things always change in the world of social media and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Recently, two things cropped up that deserve more attention than others.

You can read more of this post on Hospital Impact:


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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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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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Recent headlines provide a lesson for hospitals

I’m a big proponent of taking responsibility for your actions. It is a practice I try to live by, and I expect the same from friends and colleagues, as well as companies. I think this is especially important in a crisis, and I truly believe it can make or break a company’s brand management.

Social media provides us with incredibly useful tools for doing just that. While some hospitals are still reluctant to break into this medium for a host of reasons, recent headlines are providing lessons in how these tools can help you through a crisis, and are providing some important lessons for us all.

For example, right now there’s a brand in big trouble–BP.

We all know about the oil spill in the Gulf. The news is everywhere. This week, Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, was talking up the media circuit, appearing on national shows like “Today” and “The Early Show”. Not only did he not take responsibility for the spill, he even went so far as to say that it wasn’t his company’s fault.

Even though the company is doing the right thing by addressing the crisis, from a public relations perspective, Hayward ruined any message that might have come after that. Although BP’s social media team is attempting to do their part by tweeting stories about the company’s efforts under the sea and about the hotline it has set up, it all falls short in trying to save the brand because there’s no responsibility assumed or stated.

An apology and accepting responsibility for an error goes a long way, whether it be because of an oil spill or a medical error. By starting there, you have much more of a chance to redeem your reputation.

In a previous post, I noted that recognizing a lingering issue publicly is the right thing to do in a crisis situation; doing so through public channels like social media can go a long way toward repairing a brand. However, while BP’s faux pas is pretty clear here, there’s another situation that is not so clear cut. It’s that of blogger and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy, who has built quite a reputation around being transparent.

Initially, he seemed to be practicing anything but transparency with regards to an incident involving a personal relationship with a fellow employee. I’m a big fan of Levy’s, and could understand his reluctance to air his dirty laundry in the social media realm, but it seemed to be out-of-character for him to avoid talking about a problem, regardless of how personal it was. That, in itself, was a bit jarring.

Earlier this week, however, Levy issued two apologies: one through a statement distributed to the media, and another, a more personal apology to the readers of his blog. While Levy, no doubt, will still face much scrutiny for his actions (and especially for waiting so long to comment on them), his personal apology to blog readers already has produced a fair amount of support via comments to the post.

Personally, I’ve been part of quite a number of crisis situations in the hospital setting, as well. I understand how hard it is to publicly admit a mistake. That usually comes in the form of a well-written, carefully planned media statement. The world of social media is part of the follow-up, and in most cases, the social media component includes what is being done as a result, like a video message from the president, or correcting blatantly inaccurate comments in social channels. I think there are several reasons for this. Social media is still fairly new and represents a bit of the unknown. For most, there’s no comfort level with social media. And of course, “We’re sorry,” isn’t often part of a brand’s standard media statement language!

What we have to remember, howeer, is that through social media, word now spreads like wildfire, and you must be prepared to respond if you’re brand is threatened. Rumors abounded last month after a faulty virus update from McAfee disabled our entire system’s computers. The following tweets show not only how rumors can easily–and quickly–distort the truth, but also how they can be quickly addressed if you’re monitoring for this information.

* @GetWired retweeted this from @vmyths: McAfee rules out cyber-terror re: yesterday’s antivirus attack. Death @ RI hospital a coincidence until proven otherwise.

* We responded with: @vmyths Good morning. I can assure u that no deaths occurred as result of yesterday’s McAfee issue. Patients were safe throughout.

* He then posted the following: @RIHospital asserts “patients were safe throughout” the McAfee antivirus attack last week. Don’t get duped by urban legends!

With what we know about brand management and the power of social media, when an opportunity arises to take responsibility for a situation, I’d suggest the best practice might be to whittle down those media statements to a simple message: an apology that will fit into 140 characters. That tweet might be the one that’s heard around the world.

This post was originally writtten 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.


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The art of hospital blogging

We are behind the curve. I hate to admit that, but since we have not yet launched blogs for our hospitals, I have to face that fact. Many would say that launching a blog should be the first step in a social media plan. There’s good reasoning behind that…

Blogs are important for hospitals for a myriad of reasons. First, with a dwindling media market and very few reporters who are dedicated to covering the health beat, a blog is a perfect way to tell your story the way you want it told. Want to highlight a patient success story? Put it on your blog. Want to help with recruitment for a hard-to-fill position in the hospital? Have a guest blogger explain a day in the life of working in that job. Want to talk about a hot news topic? Include a column by one of your doctors or nurses, thereby getting the word out to the public on what they need to know while positioning your doctor or nurse as the go-to expert on the subject. Want comments, feedback and engagement? Just ask for it. Photos, videos, podcasts? The more, the merrier!

It makes so much sense for a hospital to have a blog as an important part of its marketing efforts and brand loyalty. And it should definitely be considered a key tactic within an overall strategic marketing plan. As I began to develop plan to launch our own blogs, I of course had to do some research to see what other hospitals are doing. As always, I started at my go-to place, the blog of Ed Bennett, Found in Cache. (Seriously, I don’t know what I would do without Ed!) He reports that as of January, 106 hospitals had a blog.

So what are they doing?

They’re getting media placements from good blog posts.
In a recent webinar, Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic reported that sometimes blogs are incredibly helpful in getting a story into mainstream media, and he cited a video they shot with a professional baseball player who had a procedure done at Mayo. While traditional media were reluctant to do the story based on a pitch (pardon the pun), they later landed several placements in major media outlets. First, they had the baseball player’s story, then they had a follow-up story of a woman who learned about the procedure through Twitter and Facebook, had the procedure, and met the player! The result was great stories featured in major media outlets. By the way, Mayo Clinic has a total of eight (yes, eight!) blogs, all designed for different audiences. That’s more than I could even begin to manage, but nevertheless, amazing.

They’re telling their patients’ stories, and more.
The Children’s Hospital Boston’s Thrive blog is a wonderful mix of patient stories, a variety of medical topics and safety issues for kids. It has posts from the “blogger in residence,” a former Boston Globe reporter, as well as three physicians who blog regularly (one is the medical communications editor), and the hospital’s director of family and patient communications. The blog features timely posts calling attention to major news stories featuring Children’s Hospital Boston. The Thrive blog also includes a great section called One Patient’s Story, devoted exclusively to patient stories told from the viewpoint of the bloggers, clinicians, or parents, and includes many photos.

Life in a Medical Center is the University of Maryland Medical Center’s blog. It is designed for “patients, employees and friends of UMMC” and contains a nice mix of patient stories, health advice and feature articles on different programs. The bloggers are a diverse group of web writers from UMMC–clinicians, experts and patients themselves. At UMMC, they also use their blog to share great stories, and many are from the perspective of the patient or the parent of a young patient. Who wouldn’t want to read a story about a 14-month old with a MRSA infection, told from the point of view of the terrified parent?

They’re keeping it fresh.
In order for a blog to be successful, new content must be created regularly, at least once a week, as recommended by Lee Aase in his social media pyramid. Unlike a hospital website, which tends to be more static, a blog needs to be regularly updated to keep people coming back to read it, and of course to leave comments. This can be daunting for small hospitals or small communications departments that already handle many other duties. Given this, it’s understandable why blogs are the least used social medium for hospitals.

What are some other benefits of blogs? You can include your Twitter feeds right on your blog page, link to your hospital website for more info, and, of course, create your editorial calendar well in advance to align with your overall communications/marketing strategy and meet the community’s needs.

So why aren’t more hospitals (like us!) using a blog? Is it the resources and time, or is it something else? Interested to hear your feedback.

(The post was written for and originally appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org)


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Patient complaints: To delete or not to delete, that is the question

When we decided to add social media to our arsenal of healthcare marketing tools, we knew there was an inherent risk in doing so. We understood the potential of negative comments appearing on a Facebook wall, or a disgruntled patient tweeting about how many hours they’ve spent in our busy emergency department. But when it actually happens, it’s unsettling nonetheless.

In my own experience, we sailed along happily on our hospital Facebook pages for quite a while until one day we found a post that identified a doctor by name, and not in a flattering way. Thus began a series of many meetings and discussions and ultimately, the development of a protocol to address such negative postings.

As the hospital’s representative in the social media world, I understand that we need to expect these posts, and part of me feels that deleting a post is simply censorship. Deleting a post goes against the grain of social media, where people expect to have their say and be heard. Another part of me, however, understands that a doctor’s reputation is being called into question by one unhappy patient. And that is exactly why you need a policy for what is acceptable and what is not. But just having a policy isn’t everything. Let me explain.

Our policy contains some very straightforward information that nearly anyone can understand, followed by the more formal, legal jargon. Included is a section that indicates a user should not post anything that is “abusive, harassing, embarrassing, tortuous, defamatory, obscene, libelous,” etc. Seems clear, right? Well, we learned those words are very subjective. In my opinion, the post was none of those. In the doctor’s opinion, however, it was, and the doctor also questioned whether there was a legal avenue to investigate if the comment remained online.

So, what did I do? I listened to our department’s leader, of course, but I also listened to the doctor. Was it right that her name was being smeared on a public social site? Of course not, but the same could be done by a patient writing on a personal blog, writing on his or her own Facebook page, or going to the news with a sexy story about how he or she did not get the care that she felt was required.

In any case, it opened our eyes to the subjective nature of the policy, and it also led to a protocol being developed so that in the future, if a member of the hospital staff is identified by name in a way that COULD be considered as “abusive, defamatory, embarrassing…”, then the post would be removed and the user would be notified that the post was deleted because it went against the policy. The protocol, however, does allow for negative posts about the hospital in general or a particular department to remain online.

It was an interesting experience, and one that happened again just a few weeks later on another of our Facebook pages. This time it was a lot easier to recognize that it wasn’t censorship, but protecting the reputation of an individual physician. And I am quite happy that if I were on vacation, any member of the team who was covering for me would know exactly how to handle negative postings because of the protocol we developed.

But I’d be very interested to hear what other hospitals are doing. So what say you: To delete or not to delete? Do you agree with our approach?

(Written for and originally posted on www.hospitalimpact.org)