Health Is Social

Infusing Social Media into Healthcare

Posts in the Communication category

Imagine if every step in the care that you provided your patients were tweets or blog posts or anything else you post online. Would your care be retweeted, re-blogged, Liked?

If you run a practice and are seeking the Web to market your service, you may have heard the tired (and tiring) adage that Content Is King. It’s just a cliche. Is it true? Sort of, but it’s incomplete. A more complete understanding of media production would be:

Content is King. Context is Kingdom. Process is Power.

That’s certainly a rule you should remember when it comes to general online marketing (whether it’s for promoting your business or networking or just having your voice recognized).

But for physicians, nurses and other individual healthcare providers – including Healthcare and Life Sciences enterprises – Caring trumps Content.

In fact: Caring is the content.

The caring is the message.

Care is the medium which propagates the profession.

More and more doctors and nurses are using social media. This is a welcome evolution: we need their voices.

It’s in their interest – and ours – to be sufficiently media-savvy.

Using the tools aren’t hard. It’s the discipline, diligence and integrity to produce quality content, appropriately market their messages, interact with their core audience and to help extend the art and science of caring from the bedside to the byte.

If you don’t care for others, they won’t care for you.

That’s as true for healthcare as it is for blogging.

Caring is King.

Caring is Kingdom.

Caring is Power.


(Apologies for the paternal-dominated language – I had to work with a paternal-dominated cliche.) 🙂

Authenticity as a buzzword needs to die. I’m going to kill it. Love is my gun. So sit back and watch.

During the last Webinar that Health Is Social hosted, an attendee asked a great question about authenticity in communications with patients online. But there are times when the word Authenticity is used and I’d like to address that.

We all want authentic communications – it’s sort of one of those things you just expect. Who wants you to be Inauthentic?

But I don’t think healthcare communicators should worry too much about how to reconcile a professional/corporate personal with Authenticity.

What?! OMG – you can’t be serious!

Hold up – this is what I mean. People want all sorts of things – value, honesty, feedback, information, resources, support, humor… When they deal with an organizational representative, for the most part they understand that they’re working with someone who is playing a role. It’s OK to play a role – doctors play roles, nurses play roles, leaders play roles.

It’s when the roles people play hide things or divert attention that communications and trust break down.


If your interactions with people are honest and clear and helpful, you don’t have to worry about authenticity. In fact, the more focused you are on being authentic, the less authentic you’ll be. Why? Because authenticity becomes a goal onto itself rather than a natural consequence of everything else you do.

Here’s an illustration of this phenomenon. Read the following sentence, pause for a moment and do exactly as it requests: Don’t think of pink elephants prancing in tutus! You thought of pink elephants prancing in tutus just now, didn’t you? Some things you just can’t command – Authenticity is one of those things. Make sense?

When consumers interact with you and you give them what they’re looking for (whatever it is), I doubt very much they go home and say: Hey honey, I had a great back-and-forth online with ABC Company today. I got everything that I needed from them – great customer service, sincerity, empathy and useful information…but I’m devastated because I just don’t think they were authentic.

In the same way, when most people speak highly of you, the most common things they say probably don’t include “Wow, she was authentic! She was really authentic!”. Who talks like that? No, they’re going to talk about what you did for them.

I think Authenticity may be a misleading thing to worry about in online communications. Sincerity is probably a better term. You might care about appearing or being authentic, but I don’t really care. Basically, I want you to be honest and useful.


Ever love somebody? If so, were you worried about being authentic? Or did you just love?

Healthcare – and the communications that weave within and orbit it – need a lot of love in addition to hard work.

Love? Sounds corny. No place in business. Not a Healthcare term.

OK. BUT: If you hate communicating, do you think you’ll communicate well or turn off those who you need?

On the other hand, if you love communicating, don’t you think you’ll turn on the people whom you need to tune in?

Authenticity in Healthcare communications is what happens when you do all of the hard work of serving your informational customers.

If you don’t love what you do, authenticity isn’t your biggest problem, is it?

Not everybody loves what they do. Which means: you have an edge over them.



Love is the ultimate competitive avantage.


Our next Webinar will touch on Authenticity. Sign up here!

“Blogging is dead.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear that. According to Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Network List, fewer than 90 hospitals have blogs. That’s less than 2% of all US hospitals! Meanwhile, over 600 hospitals have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Does that mean blogging is dead? Or does it mean that hospitals are passing on important opportunities to communicate?

I understand why some people think blogging is dead. More and more people are turning to Twitter and other ‘real-time’ media to publish and interact.

Also: Resources are scarce: a tweet…well a tweet is 140 characters. It’s Twitter. How can it get any easier? Why blog when you can tweet? Attention spans are short anyway.

Twitter and Facebook also supposedly ‘viral’ (wonderfully seductive buzzword for the uninitiated).

I’ve been in discussions with clients who have told me their agencies advised them that Twitter, Facebook  and Youtube were all that’s needed anymore and that their websites were basically useless. That blogging wasn’t worth the effort and that nobody reads blogs.


Nobody reads blogs? Well: Google does. Google loves blogs. Don’t you think Google is an important ‘follower’? Hypothetical: which of these two kinds of ‘followers’ would you rather have?:

  • Ten thousand followers on Twitter, 99.9% of which ignore your tweets and the rest aren’t paying strong attention to you
  • 1 search engine, like Google, who indexes and archives your blog’s content and serves it up to people who are actively looking for what you might have?

Patients read blogs too. “Oh, we tried a blog, but only had 25 subscribers.” Only 25? You mean those 25 people – human beings – don’t matter? What if a few of those readers were healthcare journalists or philanthropists or patients who are connected via their own communications platforms to thousands of others?

For that matter, what if you had 1? What if she’s the one person with a condition and she finds your content of immense and rare value? What if your content enables her to lead a better life, even if in some small way? Why would you refer to her as an ‘only’?

Nobody reads blogs. OK, well nobody reads your tweets. 🙂

You see, Twitter and Facebook and other streaming media create the illusion that longer form content doesn’t matter much anymore.

Actually: where do you think all that good stuff people share on Twitter and Facebook come from? Who do you think earns ROI (however it’s defined) from those tweets and other social streams? The fact is, many of the items shared on streaming media are links to…blog posts.


You need three integrated things in today’s world in order to have any chance of having an audience: content, context and process. Content and context provide relevance – a no-brainer.

But you need process in order to deliver that relevance. If you have none of the skills required for blogging, then you won’t understand how to develop and execute the kinds of processes needed to properly execute whatever strategies you have. It’s that simple. Blogging is a skill, and it’s no longer just putting up content – it’s a process.

You don’t need a huge following on your blog. You do need to be good at content generation. Twitter and Facebook won’t do that – in fact, they’ll make you sloppy and lame if that’s all you do.

In today’s world, you do have to be swift in your interactions. But that’s a skill too, one best honed by the experiences of blogging. Too many agencies and clients have for too long forgone the education and skills-building that blogging provides.

I’m not saying you need a blog – I am saying you need the underlying skills. If you know another way to garnish those skills, more power to you.


You (or your client) don’t own Twitter or Facebook. You don’t own your tweets. You have no control over Twitter. No control over Facebook. You don’t even own your name on those services.

The only place you own on the Internet is your domain name. Why would you abandon the only thing in an uncontrollable world that you have some control over?

Why would not take advantage of the wide opportunities to produce an infinite combination of content – enduring and timeless content – that matters most to the very people you serve?

Don’t get taken in by get-rich schemes.

21st Century communications is an endurance feat, not a popularity contest.

Healthcare content is far too important to leave to Twitter and Facebook. You (or your client) are experts (I hope). If you are, I hope you know how to bring forth your expertise online.

There’s so much content in Healthcare and yet one of the most common questions is: But what do we talk about?

OMG – the amount of topic is more than one organization can ever cover. So the opportunities are wide open!

Twitter and Facebook and other social media have value, don’t get me wrong: but without a home-base of your own, you’re missing a key ingredient in your online presence. Kind of like apple pie without real apples.

The Internet is the Electric Sea of Infinity: it’s easy to get shocked and tossed and drowned if you don’t have the right kind of boat.

A well-written and engaging blog is about the only place on the Sea of Infinity where you can build a boat with an anchor.


In future posts and Webinars, I’ll discuss more about healthcare blogging because I think it’s an ignored topic.

Empowered. Unempowered.

Engaged. Disengaged.

Educated. Uneducated.

Enlightened. Unenlightened.

Electronic (digital). Analog.

Words. Words matter. Words matter because they have the power to do completely different things, like: clarify and confuse.

Does it matter what we call human beings who have medical conditions? Are they patients? Do we use qualifying words to describe them? Empowered patient? Unempowered patient?

Lately there’s been words about the word ‘e-patient’. “Should we use this word?” “Shouldn’t we use this word?”

Does it all matter? I think it all depends on who you are.

If you’re my provider, you can call me a muther effer – I don’t care, as long as you know what you’re doing, assess me appropriately, answer my questions or point me to reliable resources, educate me…But that’s me. Not you. Or him. Or her.

Recent discussions and the meta-discussions about them have raised questions about the appropriateness and necessity of words like ‘e-patient‘. Susannah Fox proclaims:

New concepts need gimmicks. Proven concepts do not.

An eternal truth, with one exception: a proven concept without an audience might still need a gimmick. And perhaps all the discussion about these words comes down to the desire for a noble gimmick. Not an easy desire to satisfy. It’s a tenuous endeavor, a marketing problem really – one which can be brilliantly executed…sadly, more often botched.

Here are two other voices – read their stuff and you’ll be able to follow all the necessary links.

Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V) asks if the e-patient revolution is over. I didn’t know there was a revolution but he makes a solid point about the commonness of analog and the perils of the proverbial echo chamber. He also notes that many patients aren’t using electronic resources – we could call them Analog Patients I suppose.

In a French-roasted post, Daphne Swancutt of HealthIntel, makes the case for not euthanizing the ‘epatient’. In it, Daphne may have identified the key pivot in the chatter over words:

One day, we’ll get to a point when all patients are e-patients. Perhaps then, we go back to the future and begin anew with “patient,” which will implicitly suggest e-patient. But, we’re not there, yet. Not today. Not tomorrow. Likely not next year.

That’s it: she’s acknowledged that ‘epatient’ isn’t ideal but that perhaps – for now – we do need some convenient call-bell to signify and communicate where we’re coming from so that providers and others invested in our well-being can take the most appropriate courses of action with us.

Now I don’t know if ‘epatient’ is that bell (you can read my preliminary views on what I coined the fPatient here), but her argument seems to be at the crux of the matter. The trick lies in how proliferative the word becomes – and if the sender and receiver are on the same page of meaning.

Ideally, healthcare professionals should have the training and experience and therapeutic communication expertise to treat their patients in accordance with their unique array of characteristics – we all have different communication styles, personalities, levels of passivity or activity.

Unfortunately, when they don’t, patients (my God -what word do I use in this post?!) are left to their own resources. And that’s where adjectives and letters might make a difference: those with the resources can ring their call-bell to others – to rally support, seek curated information, learn more about their condition, etc.


There is no right or wrong answer here. What matters is meaning and communication and citizenry (more on that word in a moment). Perhaps an amusing moment from Through the Looking Glass is worth invoking:

`When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

In its simplest abstraction, seeking and receiving healthcare is about finding and getting solutions to problems.

Some people are actively engaged in their healthcare. Other’s aren’t. Engaged versus disengaged.

Some people use digital technologies. Others: not so much. Electronic (digital) versus analog.

But here’s the thing: regardless of your empowerment today, it might be lessened or taken away tomorrow. You might be Humpty Dumpty – and all you can hope for is that either you’ll be put back together again or change your world-view and find liberation in dignified acceptance.

When you become an unempowered patient, you are no less human than before. You do, however, become dependent on others to impute empowerment onto your person and to confer onto you the full rights of dignity and care and technical expertise which any true civilization labors to bring forth into a world of chaos.

We’re not always empowered, regardless of what we do. There are times when we are varyingly unempowered. What happens when you become unempowered?

Who takes care of you? Who speaks for you? Who breaks their back to rescue your dignity from death?

Regardless of what words we use, the fact is: we ultimately depend on professionals who manifest their oaths everyday – from their care to their research findings. We need cultures of caring that lessen the need for linguistic work-arounds. The Empowered Healthcare Culture.


If you asked me what word I might prefer that we call patients, I’d say: citizen. Neither more nor less.

A citizen has rights and responsibilities. A healthcare culture that encourages citizens to exercise the former and assume the later, engenders a more optimal environment of communication and healing.

And as a citizen loses power – either by lack of resources or education or disease or despair – we are obligated to raise our voices. The provider becomes charged with empowerment. The Empowered Provider. (Laugh, but remember: when providers work with limited resources and loony policies, they become less empowered. The Unempowered Provider.)

But here’s an interesting example of the power of words: If I asked my providers to refer to me that way – citizen – I’m certain many would wince quizzically and maybe even become outright dismissive. Why would they do that? Because it sounds to some ears, well, kind of ridiculous. It’s totally out of place with what we’re used to hearing in the context of healthcare.

Institutional Habituation.

And therein lies a deep problem: if viewing me (the patient) as a citizen is the tiniest bit unsettling, that says something about the culture of healthcare.

Think about that: in a sane culture, citizen is a word that should never tempt dismissal.

So allow me to utter the ridiculous (‘cuz that’s what I do best):

The empowered patient is a citizen.

The semi-powered patient is a citizen.

The unempowered patient is a citizen.

We are not all patients…all the time.

We are all citizens…every moment, from birth to death, engaged or disengaged, educated or uneducated, electronic or analog, enlightened or unenlightened, empowered or unempowered.

@PhilBaumann –  @HealthIsSocial@RNchat

Coming in a few weeks: an introduction to social media for healthcare. Sign up for our Webinar here.

The Engagement Paradox

Yes, it is a social world. It always was. But as more and more organizations realize this, there’s a temptation to believe that it’s all about conversation – that somehow the more engaging organizations become the better off they are. But we live in a non-liner world of limits.

Social media can be a lot of fun. It has a place in our personal lives and in marketing and in patient communities.

It’s also a great seduction if you forget about your purposes.

Not everybody wants the same level of engagement as everyone else – and they don’t necessarily want the same level you believe they want.

Conversation may be a new element in marketing, but it’s not a strategy. It’s just of way of doing business these days. Another skill – one of many. (My skill is not drawing smooth curves as you can see. :))

All strategic initiatives need to allocate multiple resources in a finite world.

Engage, but don’t ignore all the other work you’re responsible for accomplishing.

In healthcare, it’s true that more and more patients expect engagement. But the fact is, they’re just people with problems and who want solutions.

Make sure you have solutions to talk about.

Make sure you know how to support them in their moments of suffering.

Remember: silence has its place too.


If you want a realistic view how this social media stuff fits best in healthcare, join our upcoming Webinar. We’re not charging a fee – but you do need to invest your time and attention if you want to earn a return. Learn more and sign up here!