February 10, 2012

Social Media, a Good Marriage


My interest in social media in part reflects lessons I have learned from my involvement in Patient-Family Advisory Councils (PFAC).  PFACs represent a group of patients and family members who meet on schedule, to provide input regarding policies and procedures that apply to medical care.  They are, in essence, an articulate, committed and educated focus group with members who understand an organization’s architecture.  Over the last five years I have learned many profound lessons from our PFAC members, and their input has been pivotal, improving patient safety and satisfaction in multiple divisions and departments at Mayo Clinic.

Recently, I reviewed a research study that reminded me of one of the most profound and fundamental lesson I have learned from our PFAC members.  The research study was a follow-up of patients who had been enrolled in the SYNTAX trial, which was a study looking at the best way to address coronary artery disease, comparing non-surgical balloon procedures versus open bypass graft surgery.  The research team went back and surveyed the patients to ask them what outcomes were important to them.  For the research team, having a non-lethal heart attack carried as much weight as having a stroke or even as death of a patient.  Not surprisingly, the patients surveyed gave much more weight to patient death, with suffering a stroke coming in second.   The researchers concluded that viewing study results from a patient’s perspective can change the meaning of the results, and how those results are applied to clinical practice.

Fundamentally, this reinforces one of the most profound lessons I have learned from our PFAC groups.  Patients view quality of care much differently than we do.  For physicians, quality reflects metrics, i.e., what percentages of staff wash their hands appropriately.  For most patients, quality is viewed as an expectation of the care they receive, not as a differentiating factor.  Whether correct or no, there is often an assumption on their part that quality metrics are met when they walk in the examination room.  Quality often reflects communication skills and abilities, and when frankly examined, quality often reflects how well they are heard.

I believe the same truism applies to our efforts in social media.

Fundamentally, as in a good marriage, we are judged more by how well we listen, than by what we say.

Farris Timimi, M.D., is the medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

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