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Letter from the Chairman by John May


Social Networks in Healthcare. How Do They Fit?

Everyone is becoming more familiar with computer technology and even warming up to social media. That does not mean we are all getting Facebook pages but it does mean that using new types of social media can bring new experiences and insights of others. In our professions we can get more done, be more innovative, save time and, for physicians, see more patients. Facebook is great at connecting individuals, but it does not help with the type of problem solving needed in such a complex industry as healthcare.

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In reality, physicians are the only individuals who can improve health- care because they are the knowledge workers. The problem is that they are also becoming so busy that they are finding it almost impossible to make meaningful contributions. Physical meetings are showstoppers because they are hard to attend, take a lot of time and frequently are a brain drain.

Social Networks and
Knowledge Exchanges
Get Physicians Back Online

With new social networking tools, there are no physical or time constraints. When physicians and their associates need to discuss complex subjects such as EHR adoption, creating and adopting clinical guidelines, enhancing efficiency and tackling the universal subject of Patient Safety, they can do so at a time and place that is convenient to each individual.

It takes a great deal of time to innovate at a grassroots level and time is at a premium due to increasingly demanding workloads. It is apparent that value creation via innovation has been taking a back seat to an ever more demanding operational schedule. And Quality Improvement is just one area under the microscope.

Social knowledge exchanges have an immediate, tangible benefit that can be achieved via a "learning collaborative" in the form of a social media-based knowledge sharing community. Knowledge Exchanges (Web 2.0 knowledge sharing process and technology platforms) have proven success in other industries, and are beginning to help healthcare.

The more complex the problem or the larger the team or
the more distributed the geography of the participants, the more useful and essential a social knowledge exchange will be.

A social network enables a grassroots dialogue without the overhead of meetings and emails. Additionally, the inclusive dialogue often leads to the emergence of micro-communities focused on core issues around safety, leveraging the value of health IT investments, care coordination, quality audits, clinical excellence, and productivity.

The community can be extended to benefit from broader feedback from peers located nationally, including participants from other organizations and different areas of the country.

How Social Networks and
Knowledge Exchanges Work

Users function as a "Social Learning Community" where the "wisdom of crowds" concept is put to work. Precious time is reclaimed from the abyss of endless meetings and soaring mounds of email and daisy chains of attachments. This straightforward approach also enables ongoing measurement of community activity and contributions so that thought leaders get identified as their "community reputation" grows. Learning itself becomes more efficient as users access and share knowledge according to their own schedules using a platform that is as easy to use as Gmail.

It is the positive feedback – being listened to, having an impact - that is one of the key attractions of these social networks. It actually serves to help in the formation of the team itself, creating a social bond between members that is much harder to create in regular meeting environments.

The Future

We will see more physicians willing to engage in problem solving because it will be a lot easier and productive to do so. The more complex the problem or the larger the team or the more distributed the geography of the participants, the more useful and essential a social knowledge exchange will be.

Facebook makes it easy for people to connect. The new Web 2.0 knowledge exchanges build on this connective fabric so that physicians reengage in solving important and complex problems in healthcare without giving up an unreasonable amount of patient time. A good social network gives the gift of time and the reward of peer participation.

Along with a career in innovative technology, John was a Trustee in the Johns Hopkins Health System for 15 years and earned a master's degree in Computer Science from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. This combination of experience and education allows a broad perspective on healthcare, software and how the transfer of software platforms between industries have had a transformational impact. He believes the healthcare industry can, and should, be next.

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