Better to Play It Safe

When a new force in the world makes life more difficult and frightening and upturning – like the Web – the stakes get higher. So many things can go wrong if you don’t do it right. You can get stampeded and lose the game. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

THE SIDELINES ARE MORE APPEALING

The Web is making the world more and more dangerous. If you run a pharmaceutical enterprise and decide to blog or tweet or otherwise open yourself up, people will report adverse events. If that happens, you’ll have to work harder. That means more standard operating procedures, more trained personnel- maybe even more fines and letters from the FDA. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

If you run a hospital and decide to establish a vast living presence on the Web, people will say bad things about your doctors, your nurses, your waiting times in the ER, your food. You’ll have to deal with HIPAA. There’s also a chance that you’ll say something you’ll regret. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

If you run a newspaper and decide to use Twitter to gather information, distribute the results of your journalistic excellence and express opinions, people will stop buying your paper. Why should people buy your newspaper when they can get content for free? Getting to the point of dazzling the people with your professional curation skills is just too hard to do anymore. Turning the very technology that turned your industry upside down into your favor is risky and hard. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

A NEW PAIR OF LENSES

Of course, you could look at the world through different lenses. You could look upon the Web as a sea of infinite nonsense, a place where people are thirsty for rare perspective and wisdom and value. The sidelines may be more appealing, but you won’t find any goal posts there. That’s not where the game is.

What does safety mean to you? Are you doing what you do because it feels safe? Are you sure that you’re truly playing it safe?

Wearing a life preserver in a jungle won’t help you.

If you do the hard work to make it easy for patients and doctors to report adverse events or file complaints about the treatment they received (or didn’t), you have a better chance that your product won’t get slapped with a black label or pulled from the market or that your hospital will get sued by people who feel abandoned or without recourse to you.

FEAR IS NOT SAFE

If hard work or changing your view intimidates you and you don’t mind living on the sidelines, it’s better to play it safe.

Sometimes, however, the world changes so fast, so cruelly, so unforgivingly that the safest bet is to live dangerously. Sometimes, it’s not better to play it safe.

Your choice. Win or lose. Eat or starve. It’s that simple.

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Components of Hospital Branding: A Rant

Along the lines of social capital, I’ve thought about hospital branding and why it’s an important part of any health care system. Marketing has a bad reputation (and deservedly so in part), but it’s a critical feature of delivering the values of any organization.

This morning, I saw some tweets about branding, and I was spirited with this.

Beyond the colorful jest, there are points to be made. What follows is my rant on hospital branding:

How do you feel about this. I’d like to hear from you professional marketers. Is this delusional? Or am I on to something important?

[Link to video if it’s not viewable here.]

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Bloggers Wanted: Why You Should Volunteer for a Hospital Blog

Of the billions of bloggers out there (albeit most with an average readership of 1), how many talented ones would be willing to volunteer their time to help out a community hospital with its blogging?

As I’ve discussed in the last post, hospital blogging can be a costly project. The opportunity costs of blogging can be huge (time spent on research or improving operations). But: the opportunity costs of not blogging can be even bigger (not showing off your knowledge base and expertise or establishing community trust and authority).

So to help the community of hospitals (large and small), one possible route is to solicit help from the community of bloggers. The blogosphere a disparate and often talented community. It includes soccer moms, engineers, web designers, doctors, politicians, forest rangers, comics, and a whole assortment of other resourceful individuals. Many of them also have other skills pertinent to business and process management.

I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of bloggers (some amateur, others experienced pros) who would be delighted to offer their services to community hospitals. There’s really no University of Blogging per se. And no one company that stands out to fill the role of uber-consultant. So hospitals interested in looking into blogging or other Web 2.0 projects could reap handsome rewards by reaching out to the blogging community.

Why would bloggers volunteer their time, even it would be for an hour per week? Here are some off-the-cuff benefits to volunteer hospital-blogging:

1. Boost traffic (slightly) to their own site (as appropriate)
2. Help enhance their reputation and authority
3. Develop another blogging “voice”
4. Build their brand (or resume if that’s what they want)
5. Expand their horizons
6. Offer a chance to become evangelists for healthcare technology on the web
7. Enhance their value to other bloggers
8. Network with other bloggers
9. Change the mix of their daily grind
10. Gain a sense of participating in a noble cause.

I hear people laugh and offer a lot of (understandable) sarcasm at the idea of bringing blogging and other social media to hospitals. That’s fine with me. As long as they have ideas for improving healthcare. And understand what it is that I’m driving at.

Cynicism is not skepticism.

Cynics put down the truth. Skeptics lift it up.

For you folks who find it a nutty proposition, please argue with any of the ten items I listed above. If you reject them all, would you just do me a favor and offer your own lists for improving healthcare. People are suffering. They could use your help. You’re brighter than me, so radiate your brilliance!

For those of you who believe in the values of hospital blogging let me know why you think volunteer blogging makes sense. Do you think it’s a realistic proposition?

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.