An Interview with #hcsm Founder @danamlewis

In the last 18 or so months since I blogged about health care and social media from a nurse’s perspective, I’ve seen a jump in interest in how we can mashup healthcare and the Web. Every new territory needs its leaders. One such leader is my friend  Dana Lewis who founded a Twitter chat focused on social media in health care communications. The chat is called Healthcare Social Media and uses the hashtag  #hcsm to rally participants in a weekly conversation Sundays at 8:00pm Central. She recently won the 2009 Excellence in New Communications Award from the Society for New Communications Research.

Dana started #hcsm out of conversations she had with communications consultant  Arik Hanson (a great man to follow on Twitter, especially if you’re interested in 21st Century Public Relations). Twitter chats offer a way for people with shared interests to exchange knowledge and advance a field of study. After starting #RNchat, I gained an appreciation for how these chats are moderated. Dana’s moderation has been an important inspiration and model. So I decided to interview her and it’s my pleasure to bring you the interview.

[UPDATE: Dana made a comment about one of the many people who helped her with #hcsm which I want to highlight. Here’s what Dana had to say about  Tom Stitt, CEO of Aperial:

he and his company Aperial have given #hcsm it’s home away from Twitter & tons of technical support. There are dozens of others who have contributed to #hcsm and supported the development of the model, but he’s at the very top of the list!

Tom has been an important contributor to the healthcare social media community and I agree with Dana that his efforts deserve special recognition.]


You’ve developed quite a following with the Health Care Social Media Twitter chat . Tell us about yourself, your passions and your goals.

DANA: I have a motto: “Doing something for someone else is more important than anything you would do for yourself.” This applies to volunteering for the American Diabetes Association, building the healthcare communications community on Twitter to break down barriers in the industry, and everything else that I do. I am a senior at the University of Alabama graduating in May with two bachelors degrees in Public Relations and Political Science from The University of Alabama. Currently, one of my immediate goals is full-time employment when I graduate, but I don’t believe my full-time experience in communications should be any different from my other experiences in that it will ultimately benefit people both now and in the future.

What got you interested in social media and health care?

DANA: My interest in social media and healthcare mostly stems from my interest in health – which started when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during my freshman year in high school. I have always been a communicator and very passionate about making sure everyone has the ability and right to share their voice. Social media is a natural fit for this passion because it gives me – and everyone else – the tools to share our ideas and insights. Healthcare is obviously a daily part of my life with diabetes, so it is a seamless integration with my other thoughts and experiences on the Web.

As someone who recently started a Twitter chat, I can appreciate the little challenges of moderating and running them that may not be apparent to participants. What have been yours? Tell us about your approach and the tools you use to pull of the chats.

DANA: My biggest challenge for moderating a Twitter chat is spammers – but not in the traditional sense. I have a extremely low tolerance for shameless self-promotion. Personal promotion on occasion is pushing the edge; but companies who tweet to the hashtag about their product, service, clients, etc. are definitely spam. We started as a single conversation, but #hcsm has grown into a community and I am sensitive to protecting it from those who want to “monetize the ROI” of their Sunday evenings.

Other challenges include those who don’t understand the purpose of #hcsm, and get frustrated that we aren’t discussing healthcare reform or their speciality. Because we have such a diverse community (students, doctors, lawyers, non-profits, HC orgs, marketers, etc.), we have a diverse suggestion of topics and thus a diverse discussion. Sometimes those new to the conversation don’t see direct relevance of the first topic and try to flame the discussion so they can talk about something they understand.

My approach is simple: I use to log in to  @HealthSocMed to moderate the discussion. I put out the links to FAQ posted on our site & past transcripts, and try to answer any questions I can about the goals and workings of the discussion on Sunday nights. Participants are the ones who submit topics for discussion; I pick an average of 3-5 for each evening, toss them out, and we have a great conversation!

What’s been the feedback from the community about #hcsm? What value do you think participants derive and how do you think these kinds of chats will evolve?

DANA: The feedback from the community has been incredibly positive and supportive. There is always room for improvement, and we definitely have improved the way #hcsm works since it started back in January. #hcsm gives everyone the opportunity to open-source their problems or questions about the industry and anything related to healthcare communications and social media. There has been nothing like it to my knowledge on Twitter or elsewhere. By using Twitter, it breaks down the age, experience, geographic, and other barriers that often hinder an open dialogue. Anyone and everyone can participate and add value to #hcsm, which is the value in itself.

Chats are going to continue to evolve. We may shift from using Twitter to other tools, but the idea behind #hcsm to break down barriers and to build a conversation will remain the same.

Is PR dead?

DANA: It’s far from dead; PR has shifted, but I think this is a benefit for all. Instead of one-way push information from every channel possible, we have shifted our mindset to adapt and allow for relationalizing communication with different groups of people. I personally love figuring out how I relate to different groups of people; this is why I have a natural love of PR. Those who may be stuck in the traditional mindset of pushing information need to adapt – but the same applies to marketing & many other fields that involved communication and reaching people. PR is continuously evolving and will continue to adapt to the needs & desires of the publics that we relate to.


Health Care is a very wide field and there’s no shortage of opportunities for integrating social software into the various niches of what we refer to as Healthcare (as an industry). The rapid evolution and expansion and infiltration of the Web means that the industry is going to have to pay attention and invest efforts into understanding the radical shifts which electronic connectivity is inducing in the world.

In my opinion, the most cost-effective use of these media right now is using them to convene groups of bright people to explore, share and advance ideas which make differences. Twitter chats represent a novel approach to cultivating the world of fresh ideas and we owe much gratitude to leaders like Dana Lewis who are showing us, every day, how to forge ahead through the dangerous opportunities the Web is weaving in front of our eyes.  Follow, thank and retweet her.

Thank you, Dana!

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