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Digital Transformation

5. A Patient Portal Is Social

Continuing on with the series, I want to talk about the social aspects of a patient portal.  I will freely admit that some of what I describe skirts the line of what security and privacy experts will call acceptable.  However, I think it’s possible to be social while not releasing protected health information that will lead to significant fines.

Most people think of social as facebook, pinterest, and twitter.  It’s more than that.  Social tools enable you in many ways.  I can think of the following:

  1. Social enables communications between a consumer/patient and the hospital or clinic
  2. Social helps educate you
  3. Social provides an outlet for comfort and support
  4. Social pushes you to reach critical health related goals

First, note that these topics relate to specific goals that enable positive outcomes.  You need to keep that in mind.  Just because I mention the magic word ‘social’, that leaves me no room to forget about why we use these tools.

Social Enables Communication Between a Consumer/Patient and The Hospital or Clinic

Many people today use facebook or twitter like I use email and the telephone.  Savvy companies send updates to their fans using these tools.  As a communication medium it provides just as much, if not more value than email.  As long as you are careful not to put too much information into your communications, then you should be able to follow the same rules as email communications.  Here are some examples:

  1. Use social tools like facebook, Google +, and twitter to remind patients or class registrants of upcoming appointments.  Be careful to remind them of the appointment and not the reason for the visit.  Send messages directly to them. (private) instead of posting it to their public stream.
  2. Alert patients to upcoming goals or missed goals.   John in the weight loss class need to meet an exercise regimen for example
  3. Let patients or their caregivers know when they have a new bill.
  4. Communicate with your care team.  This is something where communication may start on social tool but will quickly be taken offline or to a secure messaging platform.  Think of it as the on ramp to great communication using the tools a person prefers.

Social Educates You

Hashtags (#) makes the search for key content or topics simpler.  You can search across facebook, Google +, and especially twitter.  Think about taking advantage of this.  If you have a doctor who blogs on a specific topic then push any posts to a variety of channels.  IFTTT provides a cheap and simple option for that. If you choose to forego third party medical content, then consider enabling moderated commenting or make it easy to tweet about it.  Look at the social icons at the top of this post for example.

Educate your consumers and patients about where to find trusted content as well.   This has less to do with social and more to do with corporate responsibility but it’s worth noting.

Social Provides an Outlet for Comfort and Support

No one wants to address a challenge without support.  Whether it’s dealing with cancer, dealing with a sick loved one, or just trying to lose some weight, support and comfort help you get through it.  With a patient portal, you can provide a community.  Many on your security and legal teams may directly prohibit this but it’s happening.  Do you want someone else to own a key part of care?  So here are a couple thoughts:

  • Host a community that addresses different conditions and diseases.  Communities would host conversation, provide links to trusted resources, and let people with like needs connect.  Most hospitals already enable these type of conversations with support groups.  Communities just takes it to the next level while making these types of interactions easier.
  • In the same context, let carers or those with a condition blog about it.  Caring Bridge is a great example.

Social Pushes You to Reach Critical Health Goals

You see it today in many tools and applications.  When I go biking or running, my Strava app recognizes where I am, what route I use and compares my exercise against my previous attempts and against what others did.  I will admit I spend more time comparing my personal progress rather than what others did.  It’s too depressing given my current conditioning.  Other apps use gamification to entice you to keep going.  Give them a badge, open up new functionality, highlight a particular achievement.  So think of what you could do with your portal.

  1. Entice patients and class registrants to enter data for their condition and/or goals
  2. Allow them to tweet or post an achievement.
  3. Allow other friends to comment on their achievement. This may be more relevant to a weight loss or physical therapy scenario rather than a health condition.

Think of the benefits to this.  By enticing users to enter data, health professionals have more information with which to provide care.  By using technology to entice users through gamification or positive social peer pressure, patients achieve their goals.  Hey everyone, I lost 30 pounds, I have now gone on a morning walk 5 days in a row, I achieved 100% with my care regimen.

Bottom Line

Savvy use of social tools in your consumer and patient portal can provide real and tangible benefits.  Those benefits run the gamut from better health outcomes through positive support and adherence to a regimen to not missing an appointment to paying a bill five days early.

So what have I missed?  Where do you see more value in social?  Where have I crossed a line those in charge of privacy and security will deny?

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Michael Porter

Mike Porter leads the Strategic Advisors team for Perficient. He has more than 21 years of experience helping organizations with technology and digital transformation, specifically around solving business problems related to CRM and data.

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