Elements of Hospital Blogging…Some of the

Intensive care bed after a trauma intervention, showing the highly technical equipment of modern hospitals.

Image via Wikipedia

My post on Blog ROI generated some excellent questions about how to face the specific challenges of hospital blogging. There’s a lot of unchartered territory, and I doubt that any one person or group has all the answers. But I’ll pound out some on-the-fly thoughts.

A Little Internal Trackbacking
Before offering thoughts on how to address the specific problems of hospital blogging, it should be noted that whether or not a blog itself is ultimately worth burning the candle, there can be merit to the process of blogging.

There’s something about the discipline of blogging that confers benefits worth considering.

Just as the process of writing and reading can help you become a better communicator, thinker, problem-solver or just a more awakened animal, blogging can polish the lens through which you see things. The pliancy of the blogging process offers the ability to zoom-in on details you might otherwise miss or zoom-out to view the larger forest. It also connects you with other people and those people in turn connect you with new ideas or novel mutations of older ideas. And although it can be a solitary discipline, it opens you up to the world around you (if you’re paying attention). (Uh oh, I just caught myself meta-blogging. Shoot!)

Web 2.0 Shmeb 2.0…But: It’s Still Useful
For all the ridicule of Web 2.0’s hype, its tools permit a connection to the rest of the world that is unprecedented. That’s not a small thing. In fact it’s so big that it’s probably going to overwhelm us.

Still, the tools have utility in the right hands. For example, RSS feeds help you to stay on top of what an oncology nurse is thinking. And in conjunction with Twitter and Yahoo Pipes, RSS can help medical students Follow (spy on?) doctors. And I’m sure that there are ways to use FriendFeed similarly, if not even more powerfully.

(Incidentally, if you’re experiencing comment-fragmentation due to FriendFeed, here’s a WordPress plugin that’ll make your day.)

It’s usually blogging around that gets you hooked into these tools. So far, most of the social tools are being used to fuel untreated addictions. But that’s OK: boredom will eventually set in and the tools will evolve refinements that get us back to being more productive with them. For now, it’s a good time to adopt, play around, and figure out what works for you. Just don’t take all it too seriously.

That’s my argument for why hospitals might want to consider blogging. Not necessarily to throw a blog up (especially without seriously thrashing the project about up-front). But the benefits that the blogging process confers might justify its work-up. In the process, your employees might learn things they never knew were possible.

FACING THE CHALLENGES…SOME PROPOSALS

Basics…Start with Them
My primary suggestion for hospital blogging is to keep the focus pretty limited at first. I don’t think being comprehensive all at once is a safe approach. Rather a narrow focus on a topic that has a low risk of causing controversy and legal entanglements is a smart start.

Fear is not a strategy. It’s a paralytic.

Mindfulness is the Antidote.

For example, a CEO’s or CNO’s posts about her plans for her facility could be low risk with a better return than posts about controversial matters. Starting small also gives more wiggle room for the mistakes inevitably needed for learning.

Involving the right people is another important step. Scout for hospital employees who (responsibly) blog on their own time. There are some pretty web-savvy doctors and nurses out there who might just love the opportunity to contribute. Give them permission to be champions!

Ah, Them Lawyers and PR Wizards
Yeah, they blog…some of them do. And they’re smart and helpful…many of them are. Consulting with these resources is another important component of taking the first steps toward a hospital blog. Public relations may have a bad reputation (some of it earned, some of it not) but it’s an important tool in ensuring that the right kinds of messages are sent out.

“The right means in the wrong hands lead to the wrong results.”

That’s what good PR agents help you to avoid: costly and unnecessary wars. So consult with them and solicit their feedback.

In fact, PR and Legal might be able to spot bad operational decisions before they’re implemented since they may have a fresh perspective on a project that even the most capable operational managers can miss. So get them involved in the pre-launch thrashing. Don’t dismiss them. The up-front expenses of remarkable PR are probably lesser than their back-end replacements.

[[Link Update: Seth Godin indirectly invokes to the spirit of what I’m talking about with respect to PR and lawyers.]]

Involve IT, but Don’t Let ‘Em Bone You Out with “Can’t Do”
Strange as it is, the (important) IT component of blogging isn’t the biggest challenge. Blogs can be fairly straightforward, technologically. It depends on what you want. Find out how you might want to grow the blog. Consider the sorts of things should you build in at the beginning in case you want to expand your blog.

Establish strict security protocols. And make sure that the users of the blog can just blog and not have to worry too much about technical tweaks in a shaky system.

Custom-built bogs are one way to go. For smaller entities WordPress.org or Blogger might work. But WordPress, for all of it’s remarkable features, can be quirky and troubling. A simple and stable solution might be TypePad. Sure it’s not as sexy, but sex isn’t what you’re going for here I suspect.

Your Patients (aka Citizens)
Safety First. Always.

Don’t look for home runs or gushing bursts in your revenue streams. Instead, simply enable your community to interface with your facility’s human beings. Give time to sew the seeds and grow as it were. There’s no rush to assault Mount Remarkable. Don’t set high or unrealistic goals. Keep things simple.

Set strict privacy policies for your blogging. There shouldn’t be any reason for a hospital to mention the names of patients in a blog. And in fact, cases probably should not be discussed…at least until your blogging routine becomes well established. Start with fictive cases if that’s an interest.

Develop a Terms of Service policy. On one hand, you want to make it easy for participants to enter your blog; on the other, you need to establish their informed consent. And blog monitoring should ensure that participants do not reveal the names of other patients.

Complaints (legitimate) on a blog are perhaps the single most valuable commodity on a hospital blog. Why? Becuase they’re information. They’re (free) consulting data. Use what’s being given to you. Follow up immediately, whether or not it’s appropriate to do so on your blog. Give your citizens simple and easy choices on how to complain. Invite your complainers to a personal meeting. Ask them for more. And: thank them.

(You know what the Return in ROI really is? It’s “thank you”. Just a thought for all you John von Neumanns of financial ratio fetishes out there.)

ADDING IT UP

This is just a small outline of a larger plan for implementing a blogging strategy for a healthcare facility. These are just open-ended intuition pumps, to be taken more for early project-thrashing than as Gnostic Gospels with precise schematics to blindly follow.

It’s easy to get lost or burned blogging about your hospital activities. But it’s even easier to get burned providing the very services you provide daily. Examples of the risks/costs hospitals face/incur almost every day:

  • Medication Errors
  • Surgical blunders
  • Patient Identification FAIL
  • Protocol Breaches

These are the risks already inherently built into the fundamental operations of a hospital.

Blogging, for all its pitfalls and potentials for blunder, probably won’t harm people as much as the items above. Put things into perspective. If anything, the practice of blogging might:

  • Enable a more efficient dialogue about the risks listed above
  • Provide your facility with the opportunity to explain the challenges of running a hospital that you strive successfully to meet (people love the honesty of competent minds)
  • Offer an information-based incentive for your staff to provide the remarkable services for which you hired (and pay) them

Creatively capitalize on your investments. (And don’t stare at sunk costs. You’ll fall into a black (red?) hole.)

With a successful blog, you just might shine your sincere concern and commitment to safety and efficacy of care. That’s an assurance that’s good for patients. And your tush-line.

So, here are some of my off-the-cuff, very informal and un-researched suggestions for hospital blogging:

  1. Start small…but don’t be afraid to think big
  2. Keep the focus narrow, to one topic perhaps (e.g. fundraising events)
  3. Recruit passionate bloggers internally (or externally)
  4. Establish good blogging hygiene
  5. Monitor comments and vanguard privacy
  6. Promote locally first
  7. Don’t promote too heavily (at least in the beginning)
  8. Involve Legal and PR ahead of time (thrashing)
  9. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks
  10. Invite guest bloggers for consultation and/or posting
  11. Reach out to the community of “Social Media” folks…(but use your common sense and skepticism!)

Don’t blog until you really understand the hard work needed for easy use. The intangible costs of blogging are heavier than the tangible ones (yes, a paradox of physical laws, but that’s blogging). When in doubt bail out and get back in when you’re vision is clearer.

Blogging s an open affair, whose floorboards are set down on the fluid air. But so is life, which is what healthcare is all about serving. What I mean is: you have to acquire the talent and skill to be able to think and respond swiftly but responsibly even if the aren’t established templates or recipes for doing so.

The purpose of a blog (at least this one) is to spread ideas, have them filtered through other brains and watch them grow. My hope is that I encourage free (not hate) speech with critical commenting.

The process is the principle.

For more about integrating emerging technologies into your enterprise, check out Health Is Social here.

TWO MEDICAL BLOGS OF INTEREST I RECOMMEND:
The Efficient MD

CaseBlog

These aren’t “hospital blogs” but they do illustrate what some smart folks are doing with these tools.

Please…comment: it’s free and useful.


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