Changing Health Care 140 Characters at a Time
Editor's Note: This essay is part of our weekly #TimeLessWisdom series, in which we're highlighting one of the contributions from our 2012 book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care. Learn more about the series.
If you’ve read the title of this piece and scoffed, you’re in good company. Almost everyone in health care scoffs the first time I talk about Twitter.
You can scoff, but you’d better keep your ears open because it’s true: individuals on Twitter are changing health care.
In 2008, I started talking to others on Twitter about health and social media. I quickly realized lack of resources wasn’t the only reason many organizations weren’t using these new tools. Fear and uncertainty were also in the mix. I also spotted this pattern during one-on-one conversations, so I decided to have a conversation with three people. Others clamored to join. I then thought I’d try this newfangled “hashtag” (#) so that we could track our conversation on Twitter.
Thus, #hcsm was born.
What started as a one-time conversation turned into a weekly chat on Sundays at 8:00 pm CT. The chat has turned into a community engaging every type of health care organization imaginable: small, large, local, international,
medical device, pharmaceuticals, nonprofits, patient organizations, health systems, and more. A wide range of individuals participate: physicians, nurses, patients, lawyers, patient advocates, caregivers, communication professionals, etc.
The power of the chat—and Twitter—is rooted in connections within this community.
Patients begin to see the story behind the “endless waits” in waiting rooms, learn about their disease, and find others like them. Physicians learn how patients find information online and why social media is so valuable. Health care professionals educate the general public. Organizations learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other networks. And individuals from all these groups start crafting solutions together to solve today’s health care problems.
And yes, it all happens in 140-character nuggets of insight.
I’m often asked about Twitter chats in greater detail because I moderate the largest (and original) health care chat. Best practices: 1) make sure there’s a community you’re passionate about building and 2) establish clear rules for participation.
Whether it’s a #hcsm geo-chat (a chat specific to a country or region, a la #hcsmEU) or a specific health chat (i.e., #dsma, which focuses on diabetes), a one-time chat or a regularly occurring chat, you need:
- People to moderate. (This can be the same person, or you can rotate)
- People to chat. Is this a new community? Do you need to tap into existing communities (get permission!) to spread the word about your chat, or just announce it to your existing community?
- Established format. Do you want the moderator to keep everyone on topic, or do you want it to be ‘open mic’?
- Clear rules. Communicate these often as you establish the chat or community.
For example, the only rules for the weekly #hcsm chat are
- Stay on topic
- Don’t shamelessly self-promote during the #hcsm hour (because it’s not about you)
- Have fun!
The last #hcsm rule is possibly the most important in our community because #hcsm gathers some of the brightest minds in health care (including you) to talk about all things health and social media and improving health care—and we have fun while we do it. Want to join? Just add the hashtag (#hcsm) to your tweets and join in anytime.