Thursday, December 1, 2011

All for One, One for All: Using Social Media to Enhance Health Outcomes

In a recent blog from Social Media For Healthcare, by Albert Maruggi, Nov. 7, 2011, the author states, “Healthcare as an industry has a premium on content and web search, with search for healthcare being the third most popular use of the web. Healthcare also has an ample number of social media participants in health related communities that range in topics from nutrition to pregnancy, to cancer. Content services are best used to supplement the core expertise of a health care delivery facility or from a healthcare payer’s perspective, provide information that will help direct consumer behavior that impacts outcomes.”

I do not disagree with this statement.  However, it isn’t any different from the same one-directional push of information classically provided on the web in website after website.  Yes, people are looking for reliable information, and the ability to discuss it, share it, and even append it, has demonstrated some impact on outcomes.  But it is becoming a commodity, and also somewhat of a disappointment.

I’ve been involved with numerous teams for social marketing and communications projects in healthcare and other industries.  In healthcare, they have common aims:  1) to provide reliable information resources to a patient population from a healthcare provider they trust, 2) to give as many opportunities as possible for patients and healthcare providers to get to know one another better online and in-life, and 3) to give patients extended access to their healthcare provider, in many forms, beyond the office visit, again both online and in-life. 

Dependable medical information is tantamount, and personal presence and interaction, particularly in healthcare, have demonstrated repeatedly to improve patient activation as a patient’s relationship with their healthcare provider improves. Making that personal presence and interaction meaningful presents its obvious challenges, notably online.  But even if you are able to collect lots of fans, comments, shares, backlinks and polling results, the challenge remains consistently the same:  how to get beyond the conversation and into the realm of action where we can demonstrate what we are really after:  improved outcomes.

A repeated theme consistently pops up in evaluation of these projects:  What does it really take to motivate a patient to assume more responsibility for prevention or management of chronic disease?  More and more the discussion ends up being about small group psychology.

Suppose for example a group of people share a common chronic health issue, such as being overweight, smoking, or poor nutrition.  The standard approach is to provide each individual with the tools and information they need to go out on their own and set goals, modify behavior, and improve their outcome.  Many online tools help with this, and even provide the means for creating support groups of people to help the patient on their way.  But where most of these tools fail is in the lack of accountability.  The individual is left standing there, holding their bag of tricks alone, disappointed in the results, with a new understanding of the fact that, as communal beings, when we are held accountable to no one but ourselves, we struggle, whether we’re talking about managing our diet, running for elected office, working out in the gym, or driving on the highway with a radar detector.

Suppose that same group of people comes together to create a common goal for the group as a whole.  Each individual still has their own goals; however, their performance along the way directly affects the ability of the group to achieve its goal.  Teachers who set up students to do group presentations know the value of this scenario.  No one wants to be responsible for making everyone else get a poor grade, and individual performance is often markedly improved. In fact in a recent article from about shared medical appointments, healthcare providers at the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic listed the following expectations:   
  • lower blood pressure readings in 60% of participating high blood pressure patients
  • lower blood sugar levels in 60% of participating diabetes patients.
Move beyond grades into something more dramatic, such as a basketball championship, and now heroes are born.  But lets stick to healthcare, where things are more serious - for example, managing a chronic disease like diabetes.  The power of that level of accountability dramatically increases.  To make it even more effective, put together groups of people who know one another well and are emotionally invested in one another’s well-being.  Not only is the individual improving their own health, they are now accountable for contributing to the health outcome of the entire group – a network of people they care about at a high level because they work with them, go to school with them, live with them, or are good friends with them.
Healthcare has understandably been confined to very private channels.  This approach of small population management will have its challenges.  But if we truly want to motivate people to make hard change in their life, we can increase their chances of success by innovating ways to group them together in collective effort.  What better way to do that than through the use of social media?
All for one, and one for all.

Connect with Maureen on Linked In

No comments:

Post a Comment