Is Healthcare Ready for Technology’s “Threshold Year?”

It’s the start of the new year–high season for social media punditry. There’s a lot of Internet chatter that 2013 could be “the threshold year” when content marketing becomes king, mobile technologies gain critical mass, social media matures fully and the online world becomes the thread that ties all marketing together.  Exciting stuff.  But for the healthcare industry to fully take advantage of all that these new tools have to offer, they’ll have to work a little harder to get over that threshold. Here’s my take on the issues that need to be overcome:

Yes, you can do a patient community.  Mayo did.

Yes, you can do a patient community. Mayo did.

Issue #1:  Legal and liability issues.

How can a healthcare organization possibly provide useful patient information without handing out unqualified medical advice? Organizations like The Mayo Clinic have begun to crack this nut with its online community site, which encourages patients to share with each other, while they enjoy the organization’s vast medical article archive and one button access to the Mayo Clinic online appointment reservation tool.  Other organizations, like MD Anderson, have focused their attention on offering referring physicians greater access to their patient’s test results and reports, in addition to a truly unbelievable trove of oncology journal articles, trial reports and conference presentations.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 9.51.46 PMMany smaller organizations are making use of their social media clout by allowing patients to celebrate their progress, like Boston Children’s Hospital’s “Thriving” Page on Facebook.  If you have a solid social media policy and enough disclaimers posted; and the medical professionals who contribute to your site keep all their comments general; it is easy to keep legal liabilities in check.

Issue #2:  Physician time/expertise.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 10.07.30 PMLet’s face it.  Most physicians don’t go to medical school just so they can spend their precious downtime dealing with patients on Facebook.  The days when hospitals or other organizations pressure working physicians to be on social media as an “add on” are over.  I think most people can agree that it’s a good idea to having a real nurse or physician blogging or shepherding the patient conversations in an online community or social site.  Organizations have to realize the value in this, and pay and schedule physicians accordingly.  The good news is, more doctors are looking for reduced schedules and flexible working arrangements.  Seattlemamadoc is a good example.  — works for Seattle Children’s Hospital, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she sets aside paid time for talking to her patients online, posting important stories to social media, and blogging for Parents Magazine.  Fully online-enabled physicians like this will be the wave of the future. You can bet they will provide greatly amplified value to their employers.

Issue #3:  Putting useful content first.

This may require a total rethink for many organizations, who think only in terms of marketing, and not teaching and supporting.  For instance, how many messages have you gotten from healthcare organizations telling you about a national ranking, a new facility, a new pill to take or a new insurance product to buy.  How many of them help you address your underlying conditions and make the choices you need to live better? Few, to none.  And many of the ones that do, do so in a very cursory and paternalistic way.  Is it any wonder that patients are flocking to national forums or Web MD, when they could be getting the information they need much closer to home?

Issue #4: Harnessing the power of partnerships.

This is one of the key ways healthcare organizations can pool their collective credibility and resources to create truly useful patient resources. What if public health agencies, big pharma and insurance pooled money with local hospital systems to create local online patient communities for disease specific conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer?  What if on these communities patients could find and make appointments with specialists in their area, talk to other patients like them in their area, register for health education classes, join support groups, and get access to breaking health news and even get local discounts for healthy foods and medical supplies?  Granted, a partnership like this is incredibly ambitious, but it illustrates the point.  The more healthcare organizations pool their resources, the more attainable the goal of providing localized, useful information for patients. Perhaps a start might be a joint enewsletter, or blogs written in community forums where patients would see them.  The point is, it’s time to get started.

 Issue #5:  Making the most of mobile.

Triple digit percentage rises in smartphone use mean that by 2015, more Internet traffic will come from mobile devices and not laptops. Smartphones now rule as the dominant cell phone platform, and the explosion of sales for tablets mean more patients will be getting their information from mobile sources than ever before.  Healthcare organizations must get serious about making every website and online community accessible and easy to read, no matter what device is being used.  Big strides have been made on this front in 2012, as innovative organizations like The Boston Globe have used jquerty to not only conquer universal web design standards, but have provided a beautiful online publishing model that may be the blueprint for online newspapers and magazines in the future.  With mobile platforms now more secure and predictable, now is the time to take stock of every online property, and bring it into line with modern standards.

Getting over the threshold.  That’s my wish for the new year.  What’s yours?

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