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Hashtag Empathy – Using Twitter to Listen to Patients

We at the Perficient Healthcare IT blog are big proponents of social media. As Liza recently outlined, social media offers numerous ways to find information and develop and deepen relationships. Along those same lines, I think social media offers some great tools for cultivating empathy.

What do I mean by empathy? Dev Patnaik literally wrote the book on empathy in business (for an overview, see this video), and his main point is that employees imbued with an empathic understanding of their customers can gain an intuitive understanding for what customers want, and in turn create products that customers love. Such an intuition doesn’t come from reviewing surveys or analyzing spreadsheets; rather, it comes from engaging with customers and participating (to the extent possible) in the same experiences as them.

Social media makes this easier than ever. On Twitter, there are thousands (millions?) of Tweets from patients–the ultimate customers of healthcare–talking about how their lives have been impacted by health conditions and the technology they use to deal with those conditions. Perhaps the most popular example is the hashtag #bgnow, a hashtag used by diabetes patients to share their blood glucose levels and talk about their experience using blood glucose meters. The company Log for Life has even put together a data aggregation page (pictured above) that displays, in real time, a graph of blood glucose levels tweeted by patients from around the world. Even without a popular hashtag such as #bgnow (or #bgwed, for blood glucose readings on Wednesdays), with a quick Twitter search you can listen to what patients are saying. For example, searches for key phrases such as “pacemaker” or “my mri” yield dozens of recent Tweets. You’ll have to wade through some noise (for example, there’s a portable music player called the “Pacemaker”), but within a matter of minutes you’ll see real people voicing emotions ranging from concern and anxiousness to excitement and even a sense of relief.

To be sure, spending a few minutes on Twitter is no replacement for spending face time with patients, and there’s really no way to truly understand what patients are going through without actually experiencing the same ordeal. But social media tools like Twitter make it easier than ever to at least get a basic appreciation for how patients are affected by healthcare technology.

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