My new column, The Feed

The Feed was my regular column for employees of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system about how the synthesis of health care and social media can influence all of us—employees, patients and the community—for the better.

In my role as social media specialist, I have an unusual perspective on what our patients and their families are thinking, doing and worrying about.

In my role as social media specialist, I have an unusual perspective on what our patients and their families are thinking, doing and worrying about.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, I've started a weekly social media column for employees on our internal news site. I'm coming up on seven years at the hospital and three years' active involvement with the hive brilliance of all the health care social media mentors I've been lucky to meet online and in person since then, so I've stored up quite a lot to say. I take for granted how positive the synthesis of social media and health care is for patients and providers. I assume everyone embraces evolving technologies as eagerly as I do. Not everyone does. Some don't understand it; some have been taught to fear it; some live in a culture of disempowerment and have turned their backs on it.

But I've seen too much proof of the power of social media, on the organizational and individual levels. I can think of a dozen inspiring stories off the top of my head that bring tears to my eyes - and these were just anecdotes from the last conference I attended. So I'll cheerfully preach the gospel of empowered empathy to whomever listens—and to those who won't.

"What does Dartmouth-Hitchcock need with Twitter?"

At a recent appointment, I was asked that by the technician when I told her what I do here.

I grinned.

There's oh, so much that we need with Twitter. And Facebook. And YouTube. And whatever will replace all of them in five years.

  • There's the business angle: Study after study shows that more than ever, patients say that the quality of a hospital's social media channels influences their choice of providers. Really.

  • And there's the community angle: The social space is where our patients are. In this new era of prevention, when we're trying harder than ever to keep our patients out of the hospital in the first place, we can't wait around for them to come to us. We not only have to go to them; we also have to have a working knowledge of the places and spaces they occupy so that we can best meet their needs.

Social media happens to have come along at precisely the right time to help us on both scores.

Physician-blogger Wendy Sue Swanson

And it's helped ignite a new relationship between providers and patients. It's given rise to the phenomenon of the e-patient ("e" in this case meaning empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled), for one thing. It lets providers reach out to patients year-round, which is good news, as they have less time than ever in the office. Providers who ignore this new reality are already being left behind, because enough of their peers have caught on to the clinical benefits of social media—and patients are taking notice.

In my role as Dartmouth-Hitchcock's social media specialist, I have a particularly unusual—even perhaps unique—perspective on what our patients and their families are thinking, doing and worrying about.

Facebook Comment 1

Plenty of people have public Facebook walls, Twitter feeds, blogs, etc. They mention us by name in posts when they’re worried about a family member here, or are being treated here, or have just accepted a job here. I see those posts not because I’m actively trolling the web for them—nobody has time for that—but because I have a program called HootSuite that lets me know whenever a public post comes up that contains any keyword I've tagged. (Not to mention the comments they leave on our own pages, a few of which you can see here.)

YouTube comment

What have I learned? Every one of these posts is about something affecting that person’s life as they’re writing it. To give you an idea of how truly elemental those worries are, here’s a small sample of what I saw over one four-day period from a smattering of Facebook users who mentioned us in their posts. These phrases are taken word-for-word.

Bone transplant went well; it’s touch-and-go from here, so pray for us • I just hugged my son’s transplant doctor from 22 years ago • Please pray for Len’s surgery • Sam needs a tracheotomy. Come on Sam, please start breathing on your own • I am so grateful to have come through my surgery • Just want my baby girl to be healthy!

Given those examples, what could we say that could possibly be more important?

Nothing. But they’re not looking for that. The public wants to be heard. They want to know we’re listening, and that we care. And by listening, we can start to understand their needs—and the better we can help them. Your best friend is a great listener; the same rule applies to social media.

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And when I say them, I do mean us. Because as a wise man says, "Patient is not a third-person word." We are all patients. At some point in our lives, all of us have been scared, uncertain and in pain—and sought medical help. That makes YOU an expert in the patient experience, even if you've never treated anyone.

Next week: What does Dartmouth-Hitchcock's social media have to do with me, the employee?

Susanna French is the social media specialist in Communications & Marketing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Her Internet career was born on an 800K America Online diskette in 1991. (Kids, ask your parents.)