Getting Serious about Community Development (Part 9)

In this post I want to zoom in on what community development means for the medical profession. The moral of the story is that anyone who is in the medial profession will be confronted with a major change in the coming years. But it is not where we expect it to be.

What it is not

The change I am referring to is not the setup and integration of social media platforms. Nowadays the focus of most hospitals is on how they should be catering for social media in their communication approach. The average hospital will look at what works best for commercial companies and make its own blend.

Generally speaking this looks like an extension of the hospital’s web-site, i.e.:

  • a facebook page with general information and updates
  • a twitter account which provides general information and updates
  • sometimes a youtube channel with illustrative videos 
  • a pimped Linkedin account for e-recruiting.

These are all nice attempts at mimicking what communication experts tell us to do, but do these changes really matter when we look at the big picture? Do these actions impact the objectives of a hospital in any direction? I doubt it. Even if for some hospitals the two-way communication on some channels is experienced as a revolution, the only thing it really means it more sleepless nights for anyone who works in communications. For example: an ugly comment on a Facebook page that gets no quick response is not so good for the reputation.

However, as most hospitals are neurotically trying to keep up with the Joneses, only few of them are looking into the added value of social media for their bottom-line. The objectives of a hospital are usually a combination of qualitative healthcare, patient-oriented-care and research advancement.

By the way…

To cut a long story short: there IS no added value for hospitals in the current use of social media. It’s only a pain in the neck. Let’s face it: a hospital having public conversations with disgruntled patients is only wasting its time trying to be right. There are no marketing-brownie-points for hospitals on social media.

In fact, I would really recommend hospitals NOT to get into online conversations. Certainly not since almost every patient has a Facebook account and full internet access during their stay. Sure, hospitals should post all the information that makes life more convenient for their patients. But engaging in online conversations via an account on behalf of the hospital? Staying up day and night to host a customer complaint channel? Forget it.

If not ‘social’ marketing, then what?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things moving as a consequence of social media. The good thing about social media is that a large part of the world population has upgraded their level of literacy with an extra layer of ‘online collaboration’ and ‘online conversation’. For some patients this means that they are not only doing web-searches for their symptoms, but seek each other’s company in search for solutions.

This, in turn, shifts the balance of health-care towards self-care, because in the long run a visit to the doctor will only be one of the sources that patients will be using on their healing path.  If this makes you grin or shake your head in disbelief, have a look at the below video of epatient Dave.

deBronkart’s  slogan ‘let patients help’ underscores the fact that patients are the most underutilized resource in healthcare. What this really means is that the doctor-patient relationship is deficient for the healing of the patient. It also means that the quality of healthcare could be improved when this relationship would be more balanced. Finally, it means that balancing the doctor-patient relationship could be a more cost-efficient way to do healthcare.

Not possible? Well, it is already a reality for some patients, because they are supporting one another in online communities like Patients like me and

Here is the twist

Remember the previous post in this series? I wrote about the difference between service and care. In short: hospitals can deliver ‘service’ to their patients, but patients can not live from service alone. As real human beings they need ‘care’ as well. Care can only be given from the heart from one human being to another. Institutions or organizations cannot deliver that. Yet patients need this as well on their healing path.

The good news is that online communities like the ones I mentioned earlier are capable of connecting patients so they can ‘take care’ of each other. People connect on those platforms because they are literate enough for online collaboration. That’s a different use of social media in healthcare and it serves the purpose of ‘self-care’ instead of opening the flood-gates of online-persecution or online-victimization on the Facebook wall of a hospital.

Here is what is wrong with the current state of social media: we tell patients to stay in a submissive role and at the same time we give them a digital microphone. No wonder that this is going nowhere (by the way, this is equally true for a lot of brands). We get stuck in service conversations.

Here is what online patient communities show us: we see patients who take their life into their own hands and ho have decided that healing is not a matter of waiting for a third-party (the hospital) to deliver a service. They realize they are in the driver’s seat and that they have a far better chance of succeeding on their healing path when they can strike a better balance in the doctor-patient relationship. This is when ‘care’ becomes possible, and technology is no longer a threshold to that.

Here is the hard part for people in the medical profession: instead of engaging in online conversations about the service level of  a hospital, they should try to find a different balance in the doctor-patient relationship. This is a big deal for doctors because they are not educated to care for patients, and even less to become part of a community.

People in the medical profession need to get ready for a power-shift: they are no longer in charge of their patients. More and more we will see patients who are in charge of their own healing. Dear doctor, let patients help, or you are going to be in for a hard ride.