February 2010 was a fortuitous month for me. My website went live, and I met Ed Bennett.
Ed is director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). Lucky for UMMS. In his more than 15 years working on the internet, Ed’s been programmer, designer, consultant, information architect, start-up participant. Since 1999, Ed has led the UMMS web strategy building out large (50,000 page) content-rich websites designed to educate and attract new patients. He also maintains the Hospital Social Network List, which tracks the social media activities of over 800 U.S. Hospitals.
In the hospital universe Ed is a founding father of social media. In the social media universe, Ed is an expert and thought leader.With Ed’s current focus on the growing use of social media and its impact on health care, I seized the opportunity to talk with him while he was in my home-town speaking at a conference. To put our conversation into more exact perspective as relates to all things internet and social media: I was newly arrived in kindergarten where Ed had his PhD. It’s taken me months to get up to half-speed, and now more fully appreciate Ed’s tweet cred.
But, before sharing what we talked about here’s what I adore about Ed.
He isn’t 21. Mere months ago seem like years: back in February, I was so out of touch, that I still harbored the belief that social media, and Twitter in particular, was the domain of those 21 and under. My daughter’s age.
Energy and curiosity. Ed was as pumped as any teenager about the power of the digital universe, and as interested in what I did, as I was in what he did.
A high school grad, Ed’s career path started with him fixing office equipment in the 80’s In the early 90’s he also took an interest in coding computers. A friend at Bell Labs showed him the early Internet and Ed never looked back. He quit his job and began helping businesses get started on the Internet back when the only web browser was Mosaic. A few years later he found a home at the University of Maryland Medical System.Back to his day job: What Ed makes me realize is that while we health care consumers have plunged into digital health information and connectivity, healthcare professionals and healthcare institutions – mindful of mine-fields like privacy, corporate agendas and litigation – are at the baby-step stage. This only inspired Ed.
“Social media is as important as the web itself, although it’s a different game: it’s about listening and creating conversations.”
Ed credits leadership at UMMS for giving him the “freedom to fail.”
Since our February conversation, much has changed. I spoke to Ed again about the state of social media: “Just a few months ago, hospital managers would smirk at Facebook and Twitter – dismissing social media as a bit bizarre, with no obvious value. That attitude’s changed with the realization that to connect with hospitals’ communities, social media’s where conversations are happening.”
In the U.S. the marketing agenda may be more overt than Canada, but other than that, social media is the best way to communicate practical information.
“If there’s a crisis – perhaps a snowstorm that may affect appointments social media is the fastest way to give updates. Social media plays a role in any community or neighbourhood-relations messaging, it can also be used for job recruitment. From a public relations point of view, monitoring social media conversations where the hospital is talked about is an opportunity to understand and react to the ‘brand’ experience.”
For hospitals, it may make good business and customer-relations sense to use social media, not so for doctors and other clinicians.
“They’ll be the last to get engaged – there’s so much more at stake, liability-wise.”
While there’s much weighing in by Twitter groups who seem to feel doctors should be embracing e-mail communication and social media, Ed and I have had the same experience. Liability issues notwithstanding, docs just don’t have the time. My doc colleagues are already overwhelmed with the hundreds of work-related emails.
“Doctors most precious resource is time. In addition to the time it takes to read, consider, answer emails, any communication with patients requires documentation. These are huge time commitments.”
Appropriate use of e-mail is another issue.
“I know of doctors whose patients send a 3-page e-mail, and attach 5 pages of charts.” Timeliness also presents problems: “For example, a patient emails about chest pains, but the doctor only gets a chance to respond two days later.”
Ed’s recommendation: Talk to your doctor, to see if emailing is mutually agreeable, and then establish parameters.
”How can you argue with a doctor who says I’m not able to do good patient care if I take on emailing patients?”
Ed keeps his doctor informed on an as-needed basis as a courtesy and as an update for her files. Anything more, and he makes an appointment.
Ed’s tracked changing use of various communications vehicles, feeling that social media will reach a tipping point, as patients demand it, reminding me, “there was a time, not so long ago that few business used e-mail. Now, few businesses don’t use e-mail. Cell phone use has declined since 2007, replaced by texting. Where we texted back and forth to set up a time for and prep for a conversation, in that past that would’ve taken place over a series of phone calls.”
These days, having worked his magic getting UMMS pages top rating, Ed freely and generously shares his modus operandi, thus giving other hospitals the tools to get exactly where Ed’s at.
Back to our February conversation. Curious about my background and then hearing what I’ve embarked on, Ed gave me a gift whose value I didn’t truly appreciate until months later: “Sunday night. 9–10 pm EST follow #hcsm on Twitter.” I have to admit that, being so overwhelmed with the digital world I’d so recently become part of, that I completely squandered Ed’s introduction that very Sunday night: “Just met with Kathy Kastner @ability4life. She’s new to Twitter. Please welcome her.”
Here it is, months later and I’m still learning Twitter shorthand, and am in awe of the speed of light #hcsm health exchange where sparks and ideas fly, and regularly give silent thanks to Ed.
Kathy Kastner is Founder and President of Ability for Life.
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