fPatient – Ethics and Mediocrity in Healthcare Marketing

I’m not a fan of buzzwords: not only do they tire with time but they also constrict discussion and usually end up being the object of unimaginative and disconnected marketing efforts. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of the ePatient. And sure enough, we can now see that the term is beginning to be usurped by marketers. Of course, the ethics and effectiveness of that kind of marketing depends on the quality of execution.


A new service – which I won’t give direct attention-traction to by linking to its website here – promises to deliver revenues to healthcare organizations wishing to market to so-called ePatients. This service employs the use of a fictive patient named Sara Baker who even has a fictive Facebook profile. The bio on her profile (Page actually) discloses that she isn’t real but “represents healthcare consumers like you and me”. She is an fPatient.

Is that ethical? Is it an acceptable marketing practice to build a fake composite social object in order to facilitate the push for a product or service? There are differing opinions on that – some of which were raised on the weekly healthcare social media Twitter chat hcsm.

In my opinion, I think that the ethical standards for marketing healthcare ideas and products and services must be above board. Why? Because healthcare is a continuum, a stream, and when one part of the industry is tainted by fakery – no matter how seemingly insignificant – there’s always the chance that such fakery can leach into the stream.

One could argue that faux patients have been heavily used in traditional marketing: from billboard ads to television commercials. We perhaps can understand that kind of use given the limited nature of traditional media.

But when it comes to emerging media, especially the kind that allows conversation, it becomes critical that those conversations are honest and sincere and free of sham. That’s the key difference here: Sara isn’t conversing with consumers (someone else or some thing is) – and in spite of the tiny disclosure in her profile, there’s nothing in her stream to indicate that she’s not real – other than the fact that her status updates are droll and mechanical.


Which raises another question: Is the deployment of fake profiles in Healthcare Marketing even necessary? Marketing not only has to be effective, it also has to be respectable. Why create a fake social object when so much more social capital can be built by simply being honest and truthful and direct? Why not take advantage of direct interaction and feedback?

Marketing in the 21st Century is evolving. The properties of emerging media are different from the properties of the unilateral mass communications media of TV, print and radio. Marketers who fail to understand those differences and invest in the time and resources to acquire the skills and proficiency for remarkable healthcare communications will eventually suffer a creative anemia.

Sara Baker can fool some people and maybe she’ll help her creators deliver some revenues to their clients. But she’s a mediocre and fake substitute for the hard work required to be remarkable in healthcare communications.

Healthcare Marketers: if you want to have a well-paying career in ten years, know that the cost of Dreck is rising. Fakery is Dreck. In today’s world, Dreck isn’t just bad copy or ugly creative design: it’s in poor social design and mediocrity of voice. Do you honestly want your name associated with Dreck?

You can debate and justify the ethics of using the fPatient ad nauseum but you’re better off investing your time in becoming fluent and proficient in conversational media. Otherwise, forget about social media. You still have some time left to benefit from traditional marketing: most of your customers probably aren’t using social media that much right now anyway. But time is running out.


The fPatient raises one final point here about labels and it’s very pertinent to the fPatient marketing.

It’s convenient to have a simple label to convey a message and make distinctions. When it comes to health care, however, language matters because how we use words influences how we think and feel and behave.

Let’s take two sentences to illustrate:

  1. “Tom is a schizophrenic.”
  2. “Tom has schizophrenia.”

By referring to Tom as a schizophrenic, his disorder is overlayed on his person. But Tom is a human being who happens to have a brain disorder. Tom isn’t his disorder. Such labeling can potentially influence how providers and others interact with him.

But by saying that Tom has schizophrenia, we are clearer in our language and aren’t confusing Tom with his disorder. Make sense?

So let’s extend this reasoning to ePatient. By referring to patients as ePatients, we encounter a similar problem of confusing the person with an aspect of their behavior.

When we say “Tom is an ePatient” what does that mean to a nurse or a doctor? If Sally is also an ePatient, does that mean a nurse should treat Tom and Sally the same with regard to their ePatiency (how’s that for a neologism)?

For when it comes to Tom’s and Sally’s use of online media and the way they speak for themselves, they can have different empowerment styles:

  1. “Tom uses various social media to acquire health care information and communicate with his providers.”
  2. “Sally scours PubMed for her healthcare information, prefers to communicate face-to-face with her providers and actively participates in online diabetes forums.”

That added layer of information is more useful to a provider: she has a better understanding of her patient’s behaviors.

How much value is there in telling a nurse or a doctor that Tom and Sally are ePatients? Perhaps some. But ultimately, providers need to know the specific and relevant characteristics of their patients. A general label probably doesn’t help much.

I’m glad that there are movements like the ePatient movement to raise awareness of the need for empowering patients. Patient empowerment is vital to health care. Responsible providers understand this.

But if words become objects in themselves and result in a new filing system, then they lose their value. Healthcare Marketers need to understand this.


As I said earlier: Marketing not only has to be effective: it has to be respectable.

When it comes to healthcare communications and marketing, anything less than professionalism and excellence and clarity is Dreck. Not only is it Dreck, it can be harmful: the farther away healthcare communicators are from patients, the easier it is to lose sight of the impact of their messages.

Language matters – no less in health care. Usurping words just because they’re in style may have some effect but in the long-run, marketing and communications require innovation and creativity, clarity and honesty.

Too often, Marketers opt for what appears to be the easy road. But in a world where people can talk back and retweet and take snapshots of your work, going down the easy road may turn out to be a nightmare journey.

If you use fakery to get your message out, don’t be surprised if your message gets drowned out by the sound of your competitor’s fans who adore and respect the real patients who love their products and services.

Let’s hear your thoughts!

Note: upcoming post will be on the uPatient: the Unempowered Patient. We need to have that conversation: there are more unempowered than empowered people in the world.

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The Winkler Nurses Case on #RNchat

When I started #RNchat last year (@RNchat on Twitter), my hope was to assemble a simple and supple forum for nurses and the public to discuss important issues from the perspective of a diverse group of people.

Here’s a re-post of the transcript for Friday, February 12, 2010’s RNchat, with my commentary on the Winkler County, Texas Nurses case:

Below is a SlideShare of #RNchat for Friday February 12, 2010, organized in chronological order (from beginning of chat to sometime just after). The chat was moderated by Ellen Richter (@EllenRichter on Twitter).

The #WinklerRNs case was the topic of conversation. In Winkler County, Texas, nurses who went through the torment of being charged for leaking private medical information. One of the nurses went to trial and was acquitted within one hour. Now the nurses are responding

This is an important case, one which – among many other things – highlights the need for swift and bold and sturdy nursing organizations. This case isn’t just about defending nurses: it’s ultimately about the safety of patients, the ethical fiber of nurses and doctors and administrators and government officials. Had Anne Mitchel been found guilty, the ramifications could well have been ominous for the integrity of our entire health care landscape.

Friday’s RNchat, discussed topical features of this case: the best practices for whistle-blowing and how to get more organizations behind nurses and the public. Feel free to share the presentation below.

Let’s hope that nurses don’t become scapegoated victims. Do nurses make technical mistakes? Sure they do – we all do. But it’s critical that nurses never feel afraid of expressing their sincere perceptions, their intuition nor their ethical belief system. People can die under those circumstances.

Nurses are the last Jedi Nights of our faltering Republic. A cheesy metaphor? Yes. But it’s true. Anne Mitchell and the other nurses involved in this case are Jedi Knights who fought through a derangement of how ethics and law and responsibility should work.

Anne Mitchell has gone through a Kafka-like hell. Let’s hope she receives comfort and equity and sanity.

NOTE: We also are preparing for a special even in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Details upcoming soon!

As always, thank you to those who joined today. If you’re new to #RNchat, just follow @RNchat on Twitter and we’ll provide updates and links on how to make the best use of this nursing chat. You can also send inquires to info [at] RNchat [dot] org.

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17 Best Posts in 2009- A Year of Social Media and Health Care

2009 was an important year for getting healthcare more up-to-date with web technologies. We have a long way to go: healthcare marketers have begun the process of sorting out the meanings of internet media. 2009 was also a year of extreme noise and echo-chambering. But that’s OK: that happens all the time with novel technologies, especially when there’s little understanding of them nor clarity about their purposes and uses and limits.

On this blog, I’ve always aimed to express my perspective on these technologies (which I believe is rather unique – and it’s this uniqueness which I hope provide you with something of value). Prior to 2009, it was a bit of a lonely place to discuss how health care could best adopt 21st Century technologies. But 2009 brought a first flood of attention. I believe Twitter may deserve credit: many hospital and other health care organizations never understood the Web much, and blogging must have seemed like a purely terrifying experience. But Twitter offered the uninitiated with a simple interface and connection.

As the year moved on, I decided to launch a Twitter chat for registered nurses – and the public in general. The hashtag is #RNchat and you can follow @RNchat on Twitter and subscribe to the blog which posts transcripts of the chats. Since most of the Twitter chats on Twitter are about how to talk about how to talk about talking about Twitter and other social media, I figured at least one of them should be about something that’s actually real. I’m kidding of course. No, I’m not. :)

At any rate, I’ve collected some of my best posts for the year. All of these posts are related to health care – although #3 only very indirectly (I had to include it because it serves as a release from all the social media hype I’ve been hearing for years). Scan the list and pick a few to read and share. Here are the 17 posts:

  1. 140 Health Care Uses for Twitter – I wrote this post because I wanted to start an open conversation about the opportunities we have with technologies and the cultural and regulatory limits stemming them. Years earlier, I had tired of paper medical records and bizarre bureaucratic rituals which slowed the pace and effectiveness of patient care. The idea of using micro-sharing communications as a way to “cut to the chase” in patient care had been working in my mind for some time. This post is the result.
  2. Pharma, Presence Marketing and You – Not having a marketing background – and yet fully understanding the importance of marketing in health care – I’m fascinated at the stumbling blocks beset before pharmaceutical and medical device companies: both from regulatory agencies and the companies’ own prejudices about what marketing means.
  3. Twitter & LSD – 25 Similarities – OK – is this a health care related post? Well, I consider humor a part of health care. And I do touch on the addictive qualities of Twitter in this post. I plan a series of posts in 2010 on Internet Addiction. So, go ahead – read this. And definitely tweet it out!
  4. The Social Capital Algorithm – A simple visual way to break down the utility of social media into simple concepts.
  5. Social Capital: An Accounting View of New Media – I started my career in accounting. As such, I don’t have much tolerance for vague references. And yet we use them all the time. This is just another way to look at the differences between financial capital and social capital.
  6. 1,001 Remarkable Pharma People to Follow on Twitter – A tease of a title. But I explain why you don’t need 1,001 people to follow to get value out of Twitter. Since this post was written, the FDA had a Public Hearing and you can follow the Twitter hashtag  #FDAsm for the latest.
  7. 66 Ominous Predictions About Twitter in Healthcare – This was my attempt at bringing some sanity (albeit humorously) into the social media echo-chamber. Those of us who are truly passionate about these technologies must challenge them. (Some of the Pharma predictions are interesting in light of the Public Hearing later on in the year.)
  8. Healthcare on Google Wave – Google Wave was one of those hyped Google products. I think it’s a powerful set of technologies, even though I don’t use it much myself (the API needs to be developed upon before it becomes truly usable). This is an embed of a Healthcare wave, demonstrating real-time embedding of content from Wave to blog.
  9. A Clinical Infusion of Google Wave -A hypothetical use case for Google Wave in the clinical setting.
  10. Healthcare’s Google-Facebook-Twitter Platform – Questioning the possibility of a gigantic healthcare social platform.
  11. Zen and the Art of the Tweet – Again, the theme of the health care effects of social technologies on our lives.
  12. An Interview with #hcsm Founder @danamlewis
  13. An Interview with @EndreJofoldi of HealthMash
  14. How to Make Health Care Remarkable – The @ePatientDave Interview
  15. Pharma & Social Media: Best Strategic Learning Investment for 2010 – Discussion of an eBook compiled by Ellen Hoenig about what things Pharma should focus on learning in 2010.
  16. Privacy Matters: Dirty Little Secrets Are Essential to Your Health – My attempt at resurrecting privacy from the social media rumors of its death.
  17. Can We Ever End Social Media Nonsense? – My concerns and hopes for the future of the so-called Social Web.

I’m anticipating 2010 to be a fast-paced year with many developments technologically, politically, economically and culturally. I’m hoping that the healthcare community not only continues to learn these technologies but also starts to think reasonably and productively about how to become better organizations.

Social Media won’t make a bad organization good, nor a good organization great. No, people do that. People with brains and creativity and chutzpah. People who have the courage to do what’s never been done before. Are you one of them? Or are you a cog in a machine that’s doomed to shut-down long before you retire? Either way, it’s never too late to change your part of the world.

I love you, my dear readers. Enjoy 2010!

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SixthSense Technology – A Whole New Web

The Web now is crude. Desktops and laptops tie you to a typewriter. Mobile devices tie you to tiny typewriters. From our perspective, the Web is two-dimensional.

Pranav Mistry, however, wants to liberate us from the two-dimensional Web. How? With something he calls SixthSense technology.

Rather than reading me blather on with a textual description of his vision, why don’t you just take a look. (If you can’t see the video, check it out over here.)

I’m already envisioning health care applications for this technology – tons. What about you?

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How to Make Health Care Remarkable – the @ePatientDave Interview

epatientdaveDave deBronkart is a Freedom Fighter. In 2007, Dave battled metastatic cancer and emerged a passionate advocate for leveraging the Web to connect patients with the content and support and inspiration they need to cope with the human consequences of disease.

The Web has brought forth new ways of connecting the world and brings with it questions and answers about how to safely and effectively extend the power of health care from face-to-face meetings to remote but important regions of human experience. It’s important for us to understand the integrative nature of health care: no single perspective will yield approaches that work. Rather, we will need the perspective of all participants.

Nevertheless, the view of patients is paramount – how they respond to disease processes, what they need in terms of information and care and why their unique psychological responses to treatments must be carefully appreciated. We need, therefore, for patients (who are ourselves) to be actively engaged in the evolution towards remarkable health care. Because if health care isn’t remarkable, it’s probably dangerous.

Therefore, since patients are central to health care, we must listen to them as they offer their time and passion and ideas. The novel concept of epatient is part of the new landscape of discussion currently taking place in health care. The idea of “e-patient” has emerged in recent years. But what exactly is an e-patient? What does the “e” stand for? It may not be what you think. Which is why I asked Dave to tell us his story, his definition of e-patient and his hopes about health care in the 21st Century.


You seem to have received a lot of attention as a passionate leader in e-patient health. What got you started in your advocacy?

When people asked JFK how he became a war hero, he said “It was easy – they sank my boat.” Same with me: I was minding my own business, then a lucky shoulder x-ray incidentally revealed kidney cancer that had spread to my lung – and other lung, and skull, and femur and arm. I was dying. And suddenly I really cared what could make a difference, and I pulled out every trick in the book, every resource at my disposal.

I used the internet in every way possible, from making sure I had the best possible doctors to finding other patients to forming social communities and reading my hospital data online. And when it was all over, I learned that what I’d done was the definition of an e-patient.

So I started calling myself one.

It’s funny, because some people think I started e-patients.net. Hardly. To the contrary, my doctor was a member. I’d already been blogging as “Patient Dave,” so I just added the e.

What’s your definition of an epatient? What are the major hurdles patients have with respect to online interactions?

“Doc Tom” Ferguson, who died in 2006, was the founder of the e-patient movement and creator of the term. He said e-patients are Empowered, Engaged, Equipped and Enabled. Lately many people have added Educated, including about Evidence.

Today the first E’s are being empowered and engaged in your care. In a way the internet is almost incidental: people use the internet for everything, even ordering pizzas, so we naturally use it as patients too.

Note that this empowering patients has nothing to do with disempowering physicians and nurses; this is participatory, collaborative, a partnership. That’s why, when Ferguson’s “e-Patient Scholars Working Group” incorporated this year, we didn’t name it Freedom From Physicians – it’s the Society for Participatory Medicine. In Ferguson’s white paper, Conclusion #7 was “The best way to improve healthcare is to make it more collaborative.”

Hurdles? The main hurdle most new e-patients overcome is, as my doctor puts it, “embracing knowledge symmetry” – the idea that they have something to offer, that knowledge flow isn’t a one-way street. That’s the Empowered e. And then there’s realizing it and getting off your butt, getting engaged in your care and your overall well-being.

It’s about realizing that we as individuals, empowered by the internet, now have much more to contribute to our care than we realized.

A hundred years ago – perhaps even fifty – access to real medical information indeed came only through medical schools. But today the internet has connected us with facts and with each other, and that has truly changed everything. If you doubt this, read the e-patient white paper – written mostly by physicians – titled “ e-Patients: How They Can Help Us Heal Healthcare.” It’s free, at the top of e-Patients.net.

Of course, access to information online doesn’t make you brilliant any more than access to books does. It enables you, if you’re equipped. So the next hurdle for some is to realize they don’t know everything. But if you’ve got a participatory empowering physician, that’s easy: you ask “What do you think about this?”

What have been the reactions to your efforts by healthcare professionals? What’s your sense of the industry’s receptivity to the e-patient movement in general?

Providers have been great to me – at least the ones who speak to me. :-) And I really can’t speak for or about anyone I haven’t spoken with.

I’ve seen enough change in industry – since before the first PC – to know change can be hard. Imagine spending your life getting good at the waltz, then learning to twist, then falling into a mosh pit. Yikes. That’s why Kaiser has reported that of the $6 billion they spent on their EMR, only 1/3 was spent on the equipment; the rest has been people issues.

The great  @TedEytan (TedEytan.com) put it this way: “People don’t know how to dance to this new music yet. Teach them.” And that is the job of the Society for Participatory Medicine. Call it “dancing lessons” if you want.

Which technologies in health care do you feel are the most effective in enhancing the ongoing relationships between patients and healthcare professionals? Are there some characteristics of patient-provider relations which technology can’t address?

Email and social media are already making it infinitely more efficient for patients and providers to connect for non-urgent issues. Kaiser has great data showing that email reduces office visits and lets questionable symptoms be raised earlier, because the logistical hurdle of that first touch is so small.

I just about puke when I hear dino-physicians whine about “I’m not gonna do email [which my patients want] because insurance won’t pay me, and I’m not doing anything I don’t get paid for.” This is the sound of a dinosaur dying – dying of FFSS, “Fee For Service syndrome.” It is the bellows of dysfunction, echoing forth from a system that is optimized for anything except getting care delivered to the people who need it. I am about to start calling for providers and patients alike to protest in disgust against the symptoms of FFSS.

The hell of it, for providers, and yes I mean you, hospital executives and physicians and everyone, is that if you are stodgy and behind the times, you may get blind-sided: your market (your customers, your patients) is (a) adopting new tools far faster than you are, and (b) moving through the age pipeline far faster that you realize.

Look, this year’s med school graduates cannot remember when there was no email! Yet just this week a friend’s surgeon’s office claimed “We don’t have access to email.” Really? A business in 2009 that doesn’t have email? Or were they just lying?

Either way, those days are ending. Bye-bye, FFSS. Consider: there is no clinic environment (Mayo, Geisinger, etc, where the docs are employees) that doesn’t do email. Why? Because when you’re paid to keep people well, you don’t mind hearing from them.

But no technology will replace the human skills, human intuition, human touch. It’ll be a long, long time before technology replaces Dr. Danny Sands, Dr. David McDermott, Nurse Practitioner Mee Young Lee.

In The Innovator’s Prescription Christensen and Hwang talk about the difference between “precision medicine” and “intuitive medicine.” Precision is the stuff that’s well understood now, from colds to knee replacements and even much cardiac surgery, I’m told. Those things are pretty much handled routinely. But the mind, heart, and compassion of a great nurse or MD will not be replaced by robots.

What’s your dream for the future of patient care?

Participatory medicine: a new, empowered partnership that is far more satisfying to both providers and patients. The Society’s new Journal of Participatory Medicine will advance our knowledge of how to make patient-provider relationships more effective.

Not surprisingly, the Journal is wide open to contributions from people who have any kind of work in this field. Because it’s new, we’re open to well thought out exploratory and observational submissions as well as controlled trials. We have a fully transparent peer review process, open to all sorts of participation, including reviews by patients. So speak up, submit, contribute!

Our vision – my vision – is that in partnership, we’ll all have a lot more fun and feel less burden – because we have new partners.


If you’re interested in how we can lead health care forward – as patient or provider or entrepreneur – you can follow Dave on Twitter:  @ePatientDave and subscribe to his blog.

Today and tomorrow (November 12, 13 2009), the FDA is holding Public Hearings about Social Media. It would have been nice to see much more patient representation, since there is a very real chance that both FDA and the industries it regulates are each overlooking the wider opportunities they have to be remarkable online and offline.

My personal concern, is that the shadow of  Edward Bernays – specifically his legacy of Social Engineering to consumerize and shape mass opinion and perception and behavior – will continue to follow Pharma into the 21st Century.

Pharma’s task is to produce safe and effective products and services for patients. FDA’s task is the ensure that Pharma’s claims and its products are in fact safe and effective. But both groups were forged in the mass medium broadcasting days of the 20th Century. The Web is radically undermining that model and demands radical re-thinking about the generation, exchange and consumption of information. We must have the participation of Freedom Fighters like epatients who can liberate us from the manipulative forces and tendencies and temptations which 20th Century media brought forth into our world.

It will take the brilliance and commitment and creativity and ethics of the life scientists and doctors and nurses and engineers (and marketers) to set the tone for how Pharma and related industries continue to heroically fight disease and help alleviate the suffering of tens of millions of people. To that end, we will need to create communities where patients can exchange perspectives with the people who dedicate their lives to improving the quality of health care.

Thank you, Dave for telling the world your story, for your dedication to helping those who suffer, and for giving hope in a time of upending change.

So what are your views on the e-patient movement? Is it on the right track? Who are your heros who are helping us move toward a healthcare system we can call remarkable?

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An Interview of @EndreJofoldi of HealthMash

The Web abounds with health care information (good, bad, ugly). In fact, for all practical purposes we have an infinite abundance of content on the web. And this abundance has produced a scarcity of meaning, relevance and reliability. So any attempts to provide searchers of content are welcome efforts.


HealthMash is one of the newer search engines for health care content and media by a team from Hungary and the US. HealthMash returns an array of finds and displays them within categories. Here in the US, most of the Web products that receive the most attention come out of Silicon Valley. What goes unnoticed is just how much remarkable work gets done around the world. Hungary, for example, has traditionally had one of the highest per capita rates of mathematicians. So it’s encouraging to see these products being developed internationally. And in the arena of health care and social software, Dr. Bertalan Mesko ( @Berci on Twitter) is doing amazing things with ScienceRoll.

HealthMash enables users to search generally, or ask the engine to return results garnered from Twitter or for Video for Images or Drugs and other contextualizing formats. Here’s how HealthMash presents Cystic Fibrosis within its Clinical Trials results (click to enlarge):

HealthMash Search Result for Cystic Fibrosis

Contextualizing information is an important process, especially since we now have so many sources of potential information. I won’t review the reliability of the results here, but I recommend test driving the interface. Another service that attempts to bring context and curation to health care search results is iTriageHealth.

For now, I’ll let Endre Jofoldi of HealthMash (@EndreJofoldi on Twitter) explain more about the product he and his team are working on. My hope is that these interviews engender entrepreneurial interest in the what I’m starting to call the Health Web. By the way: If you’re a developer and seek funding, I recommend following Robert Scoble’s  Twitter List of Venture Capitalists. Yes, Twitter has its uses. :)


You seem to be passionate about the Web and building custom search engines. Tell us about yourself – where are you from, what you do and what got you interested in health care and web technologies and communities.

The HealthMash “virtual team” in the US and Hungary consists of experts in medical informatics, computational linguists and software developers. Our individual team members have worked on many health related projects at the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine, thus we have first hand familiarity with the challenges of the health arena. Although most of our team are relatively young and healthy, a couple of the “old timers” have had enough health problems themselves and in their families, to have special empathy for all patients. So as you can see, we are naturally interested in web technologies and health communities.

HealthMash, which bills itself as a Revolutionary Health Knowledge Base and Semantic Search Engine, piqued my interest. What inspired you to build this type of search  engine? What does HealthMash do that other health search engines don’t? What technologies are under the hood?  What are your plans for HealthMash?

There are thousands of good health sites on the Web, like Medlineplus.gov and the MayoClinic,com, however they are limited in their scope and coverage. There are also tens of thousands of sites that offer questionable or harmful health advice. At the same time, we also know that even the best health practitioners can’t keep up with all the new developments in biomedical research and apply all that knowledge to the individual needs of patients. Our inspiration was our own health concerns and the inevitable health problems of our families and friends and fellow human beings, to envision a web site that offers the most comprehensive and most reliable health information to enable informed personal health decisions:

  • Thus, our goal with HealthMash has been to interpret the meaning of health related queries and, using our proprietary semantic search algorithms and bring together all kinds of potentially relevant information for the user (trusted health information, News, clinical trials, the research literature etc.)
  • Another important goal has been to support user exploration and discovery. HealthMash facilitates serendipity and discovery via our automatically generated  Health Knowledge Base which contains millions of relevant associations between health concerns, treatments, drugs and alternative medicine approaches, to name a few.
  • It is the sum of all of the content and technological innovations “under the hood”, and our passion for promoting healthy living, that distinguishes us from the competition.

Do you see it primarily as a stand alone search engine or are you considering developing social features into the service?

First I would like to turn this question into a bit different direction. HealthMash can be utilized by other search services. Our Explore and Discover section is also available through an API for third parties to embed it into their medical databases and search systems. To answer your question, developing social features into HealthMash has been planned from day one, but not implemented yet. As a matter of fact, our Hungarian health sites already have some social features in them (http://varoszoba.hu means “Waiting Room” and http://dokim.hu means “My Doc” ).

What other projects are you currently working on? If you had the necessary resources to build your dream health care technology/application, what would it look like and what problems would it seek to solve?

HealthMash keeps us pretty busy, given that it is in beta stage. And of course we also have to make a living, so we are working on “bread and butter” custom search and federated search engine projects for paying customers both in Europe and in the USA. If we had the necessary resources – and frankly we are hoping that a major player or venture capital firm will provide those resources to us sooner or later – our “dream” health care application would be to add sufficient intelligence to HealthMash to be able to answer any health related question and do it in all languages and all countries of the world.

Thank you, Endre. Keep us up-to-date. And good luck to your team. For more, you can always follow  Endre on Twitter.

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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 Twitter.com 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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