05 March 2010

Social Networking a Big Hit With Patients; With Doctors, Not so Much

Portland Business Journal

When Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon launched a feature allowing patients to rate their doctor’s office experience on a scale of 1 to 5, executives figured it would be a hit with consumers.

It is, drawing about 270 physician ratings each week, plus comments.

The reaction among doctors has been decidedly less enthusiastic. Many complain that they can’t counter what is said about them without violating patient privacy, and that they may be penalized for important professional decisions, like not prescribing antibiotics for a common cold.

Though use of such Web 2.0 technologies is the rage in marketing, health care companies wary about privacy and fairness issues are still struggling.

Web 2.0 is a technology platform that seeks to disseminate information in new ways, including via blogs, social networking sites, discussion boards, Internet video and video games.

It represents a move away from tightly-controlled marketing messages and toward greater dialogue and collaboration with customers. Consumers increasingly rely on peer-to-peer information about products, and Web 2.0 can help them access it online.

Health care organizations are eager to engage consumers in social marketing, but “everyone is struggling with health privacy issues while moving into this space,” said Dian Crawford, business development manager at Bellevue, Wash.-based interactive marketing firm Ascentium.

Despite these challenges, interest in 2.0 technology is at an all-time high. The trade group Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society is building its upcoming conference around how health care companies can safely harness the power of 2.0 technology.

Regence officials say they carefully planned the execution of their member feedback feature. Regence execs traveled around the state to teach doctors about it and to assure them the company would not use member feedback to set payment rates or choose providers.

Regence leaders see the feature as a way to convey constructive feedback to providers about the patient experience.

“It’s intended to provide members with information they find useful,” said Dr. Ralph Prows, senior medical director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon. “We hope it’s useful in helping (providers) improve the quality of what they do.”

Health insurance giant Humana Inc., based in Louisville, Ky., has also been a pioneer in Web 2.0, launching a four-pronged initiative late last year.

One of the company’s most gutsy strategies was starting a public Web site called ChangeNow4Health.com that tackles some of the most untenable problems with the U.S. health system head-on through blogs and public discussion boards.

The reputationally-challenged health insurance industry typically takes heat as a source of problems with the U.S health system. While allowing public criticism embodies a shift from tightly-controlled marketing messages, it is critical to the success of social marketing sites.

“It’s a good thing to feel that you have been heard and paid attention to, but that’s also where social media can be dangerous,” said Zach Hyder, managing supervisor at marketing giant Fleishman-Hillard Inc.’s Portland office.

Regence is a Fleishman client.

One troubling aspect of the endeavors is that health care companies are spending patients’ health care dollars with little solid information about the return-on-investment.

One local hospital hopes its foray into Web 2.0 will pay off with more patients. Vancouver, Wash.-based Southwest Washington Medical Center in April launched the interactive site YourBabyYourWay.com that has already attracted healthy traffic.

It includes discussion boards, blogs, news articles and links to hospital courses and resources. In the thick of the so-called baby boom — a 45-year-high in the U.S. birth rate — such mother and baby sights have proven popular.

“Women rely heavily on the opinions and experience of other women when considering the potential of parenting,” Dr. Joe Chang, a site blogger, said of the YourBabyYourWay.com site.

1 comment:

  1. I think doctors will eventually find that they are not as almighty as they think they are - and will need ways to connect with patients, colleagues and more. They are missing the boat by ignoring Social Media.