Social and collaborative technologies are a compelling fit for health care

Social and collaborative technology has potentially deep ramifications for health care. So far there’s limited data on how effective social media is at improving health quality. But the fundamental qualities that social technologies reinforce -- immediacy, transparency, openness, and connectedness -- could amplify the impact of that environments and behavior have been observed to have on health and wellness.

The hypothesis is promising. As health care becomes increasingly participatory and collaborative, digital-social health has the potential to transform the patient populace from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health. An empowered, educated, and responsible patient, family and community is then more motivated and better positioned to access information and understand the implications of lifestyle and health care options. Once they have more support and knowledge, they are better positioned to leverage social health platforms to spread what they learn, create a larger social health support team, and eventually make choices that improve individual health as well as the health of their children, families and communities.

The health care industry is working figure out the role that social technology can play. A quick scan of the recent news indicates increasing acceptance and adoption of digital-social health:

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has outlined a social media policy, which encourages veterans to use social media to seek information from the VA. “Veterans should have consistent and convenient access to reliable VA information real time using social media -- whether on a smartphone or a computer,” according to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
  • Over 1,200 hospitals now have a social media presence to share news and announcements, showcase awards and engage patients in an ongoing dialogue. Industry-leading providers, including the Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinics, use social media as a direct and immediate channel to share their latest research, developments and connect with patients and industry influencers. Mayo Clinic also has created a Center for Social Media to accelerate effective application of social media tools to improve health globally.
  • Many innovative data-driven and social health companies now enable their customers to share treatment, condition, symptom, expertise and even genetic profile information on their social-health platforms.
  • According to a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey, about 33 percent of U.S. consumers use social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to obtain health information and track/share symptoms. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they would use social media sites for scheduling physician appointments, and 42 percent of respondents reported they have used social media to look up consumer reviews of health treatments or physicians.

As IT groups explore social technologies, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Align strategies and explore new ways to deliver on organizational values. Centralize the research, pilot the acquisition and management of social technology/initiatives, including uniform taxonomy, vendor engagement, and content strategy to avoid fragmented and ad-hoc implementations. By getting ahead of the curve and starting from the idea of alignment early, you can tie new policies and best practices to the critical, organizational level thinking that has already been done on basic values and procedures. This keeps you aligned with organization’s existing values and strategies (e.g. communications, care delivery, information security) and reduces policy debates and the chances that implementing new innovation will have unintended consequences.

    Also, carefully examine the integration risks and benefits of combining social platform and virtual care strategies. Currently most providers use social platforms primarily for brand building and education. Savvy and empowered social media users are likely to appreciate (or even demand) the convenience and efficiency of virtual care via social health platforms. IT departments must ensure the appropriate infrastructures and policies are in place to support care delivery (i.e. diagnosis, consultation, treatment, and transfer of medical data) using secure digital communications including various social platforms.

  • Transform customer experiences and stories into insights. IT departments should also develop the appropriate information architecture to effectively integrate information harvested from social platforms to analytical systems. This helps ascertain that the effective presence in the social world and appropriate business and care delivery values are achieved. Many users of social media and networks also share their recent experiences or seek out social-health groups for treatment information. If providers can successfully leverage social platforms/data to better understand and engage/educate their patients, this may eventually lead to early detection of potential problems, which translate into fewer complications, readmissions and a step closer to personalized and preventive care.

Personally, I’m hopeful that digital social health innovation will help achieve personalized, participatory, and preventive medicine. What do you think?

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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