Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Health Care and Twitter

Americans are all about social interaction. How else can you explain the explosion of websites in our internet-connecting, tech savvy, digital age? Have you set up an account on Facebook, Linked In, Flickr, MySpace, Plaxo, or Twitter? Do you follow anyone, or do they follow you online? The newest rage for exchanging info is with Twitter. Even companies are in on the act. It is one of the fastest ways to get a message to consumers. While individual cell phone users are texting away like mad in the billions of texts per month, tweeting is the new buzz.

According to AISHealth, Nearly 5 million people are tweeting, Facebook just registered its 200 millionth user, YouTube recently surpassed 100 million U.S. viewers, and Flickr claims 6,311 photo and video uploads every minute. Social media experts say it's only the beginning of a revolution that's changing the nature of our relationships — with each other and with the companies we do business with. And if you think health insurers and providers are immune from the fallout, think again. People are tweeting their friends about everything from health benefits to late-breaking treatment advancements. A great presentation is available on Twitter relative to health care at . The slide show is definitely worth reading.

According to, since Twitter can be used via mobile devices as well as computers, many of the same concepts behind using mobile phones and SMS for social change are applicable as well. So, for some, Twitter will always just be a place to tick away the moments that make up a dull day, to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. For smart social marketers, though, Twitter can be a powerful tool for education and action. The site lays out some of the benefits and limitations of using Twitter that you should take into account when determining whether the tool will work for your purposes:
1.) Benefits:
--Speed: Using twitter, you can very easily publish information more than once per minute. If distribution speed is critical, regardless of the information being distributed, Twitter may be the tool for you.
--Non-website (source) based alerts: Instant messaging, SMS/text messages on cell phones, RSS/Atom feeds, email alerts, badges/widgets on other sites, and other methods of distribution are available. If your community can’t be tethered to a website for it’s communications, Twitter can provide other methodologies to get that information out to them.
--Community publishing: There are a few (slightly more technical) ways of aggregating a group of twitterers posts, which means you could have more people — even your community — pitching in to help publish pertinent information.
2.) Limitations:
--Only text and links can be posted. No maps. No photos. No videos. Text and links are all you get.
--Only a 140 character limit. URLs will get shortened wherever possible, but 140 characters is tough to get used to.
--No conversation threading. This can be tough to deal with when you’re used to discussion forums and such. Connecting with your community in this way is almost limited to real-time dialogue, which can limit the conversation’s depth and longevity.
--The API has a 70 post per hour limit; the web UI doesn’t have this limit, but they wouldn’t like you posting more than that unless it was an emergency anyway.

Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), which operates Blues plans in Illinois, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, began using Twitter this past December according to AISHealth. The company selected Twitter as its launch pad because the medium provides a mechanism for real-time communications with customers who otherwise might not contact a call center with their questions or concerns. HCSC also monitors Twitter to find out what people are saying about the company, health issues in general and their health insurance. Also, HCSC is now looking at Facebook and LinkedIn, among other media, to see how they might support the company's customer experience philosophy. All age groups are now using social media, so insurers must incorporate the media into their larger outreach and engagement initiatives. HCSC sees Twitter as a customer engagement and service vehicle and not a direct sales tool.

Also, according to AISHealth, the Mayo Clinic has moved into the social space, and has a word of advice for the timid: Move fast. Mayo jumped on Twitter and Flickr the minute they started gaining traction, and largely because of an unfortunate learning experience with MySpace. When Mayo went to stake its claim on MySpace, the name was already taken by a British rock band called Mayo Clinic. Mayo began producing longer podcasts and posting them on a blog. In 2007, Mayo launched its own Facebook page, followed by YouTube. Aase says that Mayo's Facebook fan club jumped from 3,300 last December to 5,000 this month. YouTube now hosts 300 Mayo medical, research and patient story videos. This past January, Mayo launched Sharing Mayo Clinic (, described as a "culture blog" that will serve as the hub for all Mayo social media platforms, including Twitter, Flickr and whatever follows. Additionally, other companies have followed suit. CIGNA is now exploring Twitter and other media.

Additional thoughts and concerns about using Twitter for health care are voiced by Patient Centric Healthcare:
--The one to many concept of Twitter with the opt-in concept (preference-based marketing), but it doesn’t personalize to the individual the way the information is delivered.
--It definitely provides a stream of consciousness which is interesting, including a lot of application for a reality show type of health tools…like Biggest Loser via Twitter.
--The idea of posting a question to a broad audience for quick response, such as research showing the impact of statins on asthma patients.
--Not much for helping with patient to provider communications. Do you really want my blood sugar posted to Twitter and sent to my physician from my smart device? Does the physician really want to see all that real-time data? No. What about HIPAA…Twitter is not meant to contain confidential information. There are plenty of rules engines which can be used to capture data; look for things outside the norm; and then send an alert.
--A lot of healthcare information has caveats and requires more than 140 characters to get across the message. Most clinical things couldn’t be send this way.
--As with most inbound things--such as registration or login, or search criteria--Twitter feeds get those that know what they are interested in and are active in their health management. It still doesn’t help to drive action from those that aren’t engaged in their healthcare.
--Provide an alert to information; but since one tip to productivity is to batch things, do you really want them broken out during the day in a bunch of Twitter feeds. Most physicians would rather get a daily synopsis from a website (which might be created by Twitter feeds).

Twittering definitely gets messages out quickly, but health care is much like the Titanic in its efforts to adapt to any new concept. The medical community, insurance companies, and health care providers in general are a long way from effective use of this electronic medium. Individuals are more inclined to make use of Twitter much faster than their primary care physician, medical clinic, emergency room, or hospital. Twitter may be the new wave. But so far, health care is still waiting at the dock to board ship for the morning tide.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.


All said...

very informative details thanks for that, nice article

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