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Friday, May 1, 2009

Social Media is Change that could just deliver in Health Care

There have been some chronic unfulfilled promises in our world. For some, it was the season finale of the Sopranos. For me, it's buying organic cereal that never tastes as good (I'm sorry but I really think that Kashi is Sanskrit for "something the dog dumped in your bowl"). On a larger scale, health care reform has been an unfulfilled promise as we continually try to use more electronic medical records, keep the uninsured from seeking and only getting care in the Emergency Rooms, more preventive care, and clean colonoscopies (I'm spoofing clean coal). Social media has promised to transform so much that it really does risk becoming an unfulfilled promise unless the various platforms all connect our avatars with the perfect on-line community that has all the business contacts to give us jobs and socially is filled with people who all want to knit with me while listening to the Grateful Dead and eat Lucky Charms cereal (or at least that's my idea of a perfect on-line community).

I'm a luddite so I am a slow adapter to Social Media. If I was a cave man, I would be the cave man that thought fire and the wheel would never catch on. Social media does put more personal information on-line that companies can search and send us advertising that truly interests us. My on-line profiles on various sites gets me information about business, knitting, climbing, and hippie music which I would appreciate. Companies are able to deliver that info to me very cheaply. It's a great distribution channel. However, I have managed to resist the ads on my Facebook page for Arrested Development T-shirts so it's questionable if it will ever turn into revenue. Social Media does provide great opportunity for customer feedback but there is only so much feedback that can or ever will be acted upon. Finally, although Twitter and Blogger have grown exponentially, they still are niches for the same hyper connected individuals.

For the most part, I see social media as a cheaper marketing and distribution channel which is good but not revolutionary for business. However, it can be revolutionary for health care. One of the biggest problems in health care is the lack of information to make purchasing decisions. Hospitals can't tell you how much a procedure costs in advance. There's no way to find out who you should go to for a routine knee surgery. Can you assume that any doctor can do a decent job and pick the lowest price? Or do you want the best and will pay more for it?

Social media can really help with that information distribution. Health Affairs had an excellent social media article in their March/April 2009 issue that I believe does not require a subscription. It highlights Hello Health, a Brooklyn, NY clinic that does most patient communication over the web. A diabetes blog provides a community who share their experience with this chronic disease. Social media in health care will vastly improve the information exchange and whittle away a significant barrier for health care reform. People will have the information to make purchasing decisions and consumerism will truly come to health care.

In most other purchase decisions, the information is there but social media just helps you find it quicker (and sellers find you). You can research a stereo by every attribute you can think of but you have no idea how to find information about a surgery (and nor can willing surgeons find you). Now, the draw backs are the validity of the information and health care is personal. However, we use social media to find spouses and look for sex partners who want to dress up as little Bo Beep and role play children's fairy tales. Additionally, a doctor that you meet in person can be just as crazy as the doctor on-line. But you can find more information about the on-line doctor by tapping into blogs, reading their Twitter feeds, on-line profiles, and other sources.

Finally, if Friendster can still attract millions in venture capital money, health care can fully embrace social media and help each other live up to their promise.

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