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Exper t Encourages Hospitals & Providers to Engage Expert Providers to Through Tools Patients Through Social Media Tools
reprinted with permission of the publisher from the November 5, 2012 issue

Healthcare providers must not ignore the growing pro- “One of the criteria by which you are judged to qualify liferation of social media tools, lest they overlook a as a Medicare accountable care organization is pahuge portion of the population. tient-centeredness, which includes patient engagement,” says Harlow. That was the message conveyed by David Harlow during a session on healthcare social media at the While patient portals within EHRs address certain Medical Group Management Association 2012 An- patient engagement requirements, many existing pornual Conference Oct. 21-24 in San Antonio, TX. tals are not user-friendly. Harlow, of the Newton, MA-based Harlow Group LLC and author of the HealthBlawg ( encourages hospitals and physicians to embrace social media tools to engage their patients. “It is important to reach out to where constituencies are, whether from a marketing and public relations perspective or from a care management perspective,” explains Harlow. “The way to meet people today is through social media because many of the traditional channels we have used in the past are not reaching the people who need to be reached.” “If you are asking someone to log in to yet another site with yet another login and password, the likelihood of that happening is low,” says Harlow. “It is important to offer the option for people to connect with their healthcare providers on systems they are already using, such as Twitter, texting, and Facebook.” Harlow warns organizations to observe patient privacy regulations when engaging in social media.

“It is important to remember all of the HIPAA rules, which include a patient’s right to reveal information about them self online, but does not allow others to reveal the patient’s information without advanced writHarlow stresses that the value of social media goes ten permission,” he says.. “Sometimes that means it is beyond marketing and PR. “There is a whole layer of difficult to respond directly to a patient’s post because patient engagement and patient-centeredness that is it might be inviting a HIPAA violation.” under the Affordable Care Act,” says Harlow. “It is important for providers to be with people where they Providers should consider adding social media lanare and social media is a way to do it.” guage to their HIPAA release documentation so that patients understand policies and can consent in adHarlow notes that the inclusion of patient engagement vance to the way information will be used. Organizalanguage in the Affordable Care Act is “revolution- tions should also develop written social media poliary” because it marks the first time such terms have cies that address both inward-facing considerations been part of a federal statute.
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Harlow /Page 2 for staff and outward policies for online behavior stan- “Twitter has become an important platform that serves as a virtual water cooler for physicians to share clinidards. cal knowledge,” he says. “Unlike Sermo and other “These policies should not be written up by one or closed physician communities, participation for the two people behind closed doors, but developed with most part is not anonymous. If people know who you a cross-section of folks within an institution,” recom- are, they perhaps trust your opinion better and may mends Harlow. “Organizations should include people establish an initial connection they might not have othfamiliar with using social media tools, even if it’s not erwise.” part of their job descriptions. Institutions should tap into these individuals’ understanding of how different Harlow believes the use of social media tools in social media tools work in order to improve the healthcare has significant potential for improving patient care. organization’s approach.” Harlow recommends consulting the Mayo Clinic Cen- “It is important to use the tools we have and customize the way we communicate with patients,” he says. ter for Social Media for sample policy guidelines. “If we don’t, we are going to miss the boat in terms of “I would caution folks not to just copy the Mayo patient compliance, leading to an increase in readmisClinic’s policies because these people have been do- sions and a whole host of other problems. We have ing this for a long time and have a certain level of com- the tools at our disposal to improve wellness and it fort and ease with the tools and use them in particular would be a shame not to use them.” ways,” says Harlow. “It’s important to develop social media policies at the local level based on your local stake holders and their level of comfort with the tools, and, based on what you are trying to accomplish.” Currently only about one in five U.S. hospitals has a social media presence, with Facebook and Youtube the most common platforms. “For the hospital and physician public there is still a tremendous marketing opportunity in many markets to use these tools to reach out and connect with patients, referral sources, and other providers in the community,” says Harlow. Harlow notes that an increasing number of physicians are using Twitter for professional communications among peers.

This article is excerpted from Inside Healthcare IT (formerly Inside Healthcare Computing), and is (c) Copyright Algonquin Professional Publishing, LLC, P.O. Box 818, North East, MD 21901 USA, (443)206-4584 E-mail: It may not be reproduced, distributed, or altered from its original form without the express permission of the publisher.