Quora in health and medicine, what doctors and nurses need to know

by Phil Baumann, RN

What assets do physicians nurse practitioners have which they can share online? It’s knowledge.

With today’s technologies, medicine and nursing care online are obviously limited – perhaps in the future we’ll have technologies which more robustly extend traditional care.

When patients seek information online, they’re usually looking for answers to questions. Now they may be seeking answers from different sources, but if they could find a spot on the web  that dynamically houses the expertise they’re seeking, that’s where providers aught to consider having a pressence.

Yes, providers can blog and tweet and update Facebook. But some don’t have much time for that. And none of those services – as of now – has any way to organize questions and answers in a meaningful way.

Enter: Quora.

This post won’t go into the details of how to use Quora. Before you just pick up a tool, it’s often wise to know why to use it – to have a framework and orientation. If you want a good general read on why Quora may be bigger than its current hype, check out Mark Suster’s post.

The mechanics and tips are things you can learn later if you haven’t already. I’ll write more here.

This purpose of this post is to call attention to something the Web has promised for a long time but hasn’t quite delivered: a place where information and people intersect.

Physicians are already using Quora to ask and answer questions. Here’s a list. Nurse practitioners are few and far between but nurses are slowly getting there too.

So what’s so unique about the idea of another Q&A site?

  • Quora organizes questions better than any other service thus far
  • Quora has a more focused purpose than Twitter or Facebook – Asking and answering questions
  • Quora exploits the key features of today’s social media – real-time, follow relationships, voting
  • Quora has human moderation and a built-in interest in combatting unprofessionalism
  • Quora gives users choices in what to follow: people or questions or topics (or all three)
  • Quora’s questions pour through today’s Web ecosystem via Twitter and Facebook
  • Quora’s questions have “memory” – it aims to avoid duplication and fosters findability
  • Quora’s SEO is remarkable – a big plus for higher quality healthcare content in Google

No other website houses all of these feature – and more – under one roof. Quora has raised the bar – and now competing services have something to match. But Quora’s already got the brand and the momentum.

Is Quora a place to provide care? No. But …

So why would a physician or nurse practitioner or other non-physician provider use Quora?

  • Quora gives healthcare professionals a place to help create higher quality content online
  • Quora is a great place to easily find and network with others in an important way – not through traditional “people searches”, but simply by asking and answering questions related to their interests
  • Quora provides an opportunity to see what patients are asking and what they’re saying about diseases and treatments – and may offer better insight than traditional research
  • Quora enables the public to see the thinking of providers on difficult issues – here’s an example
  • Quora, if it scales and continues to rank high in Google, it can provide a visibility to the right prospects
  • Quora may not be huge like Facebook – but it may not need to be, especially if it meets the needs of providers and ranks in social and traditional search

It’s this last part – the ability to “show your stuff” – which can be very attractive to practices.

Now – Quora is not the place to pimp your wares. You can get kicked off the service pretty quickly for that behavior.

But, posing elegant questions and answering them eloquently can help physicians and nurse practitioners develop a Web presence that more readily displays what they know – and how helpful they are to others.

In other words: Quora allows you to show both your professionalism and likability.

Everyday, more and more people expect their care providers to be online – prospects need to know who is helpful and useful.

The new “About me” — “My questions and answers”

Your Quora Answers, over time, become a new kind of landing page for you or your business. You may have blog, you may be on Facebook, you may tweet. But the more questions you ask and the more you answer, you’re building a view of yourself which is harder to glean from other media. Your answers become a new kind of “About Me” or CV – one that’s dynamic, interactive and real-time.

Of course, all providers must be mindful of HIPAA, patient dignity, boundaries and litigation – providers should consider a boiler plate disclaimer written by a lawyer. Here’s a pertinent question on the matter.

Quora definitely is in the early stage of Gartner’s Hype Cycle – the hype is outrageous.

Having said that, though, my intuition for technology isn’t all bad. And my intuition says that Quora is on to something that shouldn’t be ignored.

But don’t take my word for it.

Think about the premise of this new kind of service. Might such a premise be useful to you in your practice?

If it is, consider Quora. Not so much because Quora is the “next biggest thing”. It probably won’t be. But because Quora represents where today’s media are headed.

You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to figure out Quora … but speaking of which, check out Laszlo B. Tamas.

Just don’t jump into it. Go slow or you’ll trip. Trust me, Quora can be confusing at first. So is tying shoelaces.

Unlike Twitter and Facebook, Quora offers a more purposeful ambience – that’s important in a time when patients and providers both need better connection to quality content – and, ultimately, to each other.

Phil Baumann is a registered nurse who speaks and consults about the role of digital and social media in healthcare.  He blogs at Health Is Social.

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