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Q&A with Paul Levy: Can Healthcare Embrace a Democratic Form of Communication?

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Paul Levy, President and CEO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and blogger of Running A Hospital Blog is no stranger when it comes to innovation and loving a good challenge. In 2002, when Paul took the helm of the BIDMC, the hospital was on verge of being sold by the Commonwealth. In 2004, the medical center reported a $28 million dollar operating surplus.


With the hospital under control, Paul found a few extra seconds. In August of 2006, he added blogging to his To Do List and launched Running A Hospital Blog. In keeping with the mantra of social media (transparency, authenticity, honesty and passion), posts run from patient customer service concern to his views on social issues to health insurance to asking readers if he got paid too much and even the recipe of Beth Israel's famous chocolate chip cookies.
The healthcare industry is fiercely competitive, especially in Boston, a city know for its hospitals and docs. In his post Opening Day Items Paul explains an out-of-the-box marketing initiative that dovetails with BIDMC's Boston Red Sox partnership. BI Babies are sent home in co-branded baby caps and a certificate for a tour of Fenway Park on birthday number five. Idea: Tickets to a Red Sox game for "grown-up" BI Babies might be an interesting addition to a loyalty program. Disclosure: I am a BI Baby.
In an email chat Paul shared his views about the most democratic form of communication - blogs and social media - with me.
TB: It seems as though Running A Hospital Blog is your personal blog versus a "company blog."
PL: This a personal blog. It is not published by the hospital.
TB: Why a personal blog and not a BI/Deaconess Medical Center blog a la Nick Jacobs?
PL: Dunno. I'm not sure it matters that much, but if it were an official organ of the hospital, I would probably feel compelled to have all posts reviewed by our General Counsel, press office, and other people inside the hospital. That would make it hard for me to write and post something at 5am or 10pm, when I do my writing.
Also, I would probably self-censor much more, knowing that things were going to be reviewed by corporate folks. I think currency and immediacy and spontaneity are important in keeping things interesting. Also, this way, my staff folks can honestly deny that they have any prior knowledge about what I have written! By the way, I like Nick's blog a lot. He seems like a wonderful guy, and they are lucky to have someone with his experience, wisdom, and good humor.
TB: Do you think the hospital will adopt a social media strategy including blogs, blogger relations, etc? If so when? If not why not?
PL: With regard to blogs and blogger relations. Anyone can start his or her own blog in about 30 seconds. Why should the hospital be a repository? If we were, then we would have to have blogging policies! That seems inherently contradictory to the idea of social media.
If we did post blogs on our company website, wouldn't we have to make the "space" available to all and then also have to insure that they met standards for honesty, accountability, grammar, spelling, HIPAA, good behavior, and the like? If you permit all blogs to be posted on the company website without standards, then you are inviting lawsuits.
So then I would have to have people enforce the standards. Why undemocratize the most democratic form of communication by imposing corporate standards on it when anybody in the company can already create their own site in the outside world? If it is good enough and interesting enough to attract readers, the word will get around.
We are, however, looking at wikis for a variety of purposes.
TB: Why has blogging been worth your time, energy and resources? What has surprised you about your blogging experience?
PL: Totally worth it, especially in terms of getting feedback from a wide variety of people throughout the world. It is like tapping into an incredibly extensive community.
TB: Are ideas and suggestions from comments distributed and/or utilized internally?
PL: Oh, yes. I pass along ideas to our folks, and we follow up.
Sidebar: Paul is listening also. In March Roy Young highlighted Running A Hospital Blog on a Daily Fix post.. CK offered an idea that Paul incorporated into his blog.
TB: How does your blog fit into Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Marketing/ Community Outreach Strategies.
PL: This is not the hospital's blog. Strictly speaking, it is not tied into our business strategies, although I like to think that there is nothing in it that is inconsistent with our strategies.
TB: Did you have to first gain permission from your board?
PL: No.
TB: How are you handling HIPPA regulations?
PL: I follow them!
TB: What were the reactions from your peers?
PL: Some are very supportive, some are disdainful. Our physicians and nurses and other staff are very, very supportive.
TB: What are your feelings about Sermo? Particularly the inclusion of allowing investment firms to view postings and the possibility of inviting the pharma in?
PL: I have never read it. I don't look at sites where you have to register.
TB: What will it take for social media to gain acceptance within the healthcare community, to the extent that blogs (and other tactics) are adopted?
PL: This will happen very slowly. It is not a field that encourages open expressions of feelings or positions.
TB: What would you tell other healthcare organizations and physicians who are considering launching a blog?
PL: Be prepared for a great adventure.
About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
One of the nation's preeminent academic medical centers, providing state-of-the-art clinical care, research, and teaching in affiliation with Harvard Medical School. Licensed for about 600 beds, BIDMC annual clinical and research revenues are in excess of $1 billion. Overseen by a 20-member Board of Directors and with a staff of over 6,000 FTEs and a medical staff of over 700 physicians in thirteen clinical departments.
Thanks to Nick Jacobs for the intro to Paul Levy; another example of blog networking.


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Toby Bloomberg
President of Atlanta-based Bloomberg Marketing

Toby is passionate about helping companies create strategies that harness the power of social media communications. She believes that social media marketing can go steps beyond traditional offline/online marketing to create corner grocery store relationships with customers and other stakeholders.

She works with organizations to develop traditional/new social media integrated marketing plans that result in reaching business and marketing goals/objectives. Toby also spends lot of her time on the road speaking to marketers at conferences and company sponsored workshops about the importance of businesses taking an active role in these new conversations.

She made blogs and blogging understandable. Her presentation was fun, informative rich and I'd recommend Toby to anyone interested in getting the scoop on blogging. Lorin R. Robinson, 3M

Toby’s main squeeze blog, Diva Marketing was required reading for several higher ed marketing courses: University of Delaware, Atlanta Art Institute, Bentley College and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Find Toby Blogging at:
Diva Marketing
Blogger Stories
BlogHer
Business Blog Consultant
The Medical Blog Network
Corante Marketing Network

..and of course Marketing Profs!

She services on the boards of the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association, American Marketing Association and is a teaching artist for the Alliance Theatre. Toby holds a degree from Emerson College and has performed post-baccalaureate studies at Emory University.

Although she now calls Atlanta home - with her Westie pup Max - Toby is a Yankee from Boston who still loves ice cones with chocolate jimmies.

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Comments

  • by Lewis Green Wed Jul 11, 2007 via blog

    Toby, Wonderful and insightful. In the corporate world I managed communications, and the following statement is always true: "Dunno. I'm not sure it matters that much, but if it were an official organ of the hospital, I would probably feel compelled to have all posts reviewed by our General Counsel, press office, and other people inside the hospital. That would make it hard for me to write and post something at 5am or 10pm, when I do my writing." Frankly, I can't see that changing. So running a personal blog may be the only way that social media can be open and honest when coming out of a corporate environment.

  • by Valeria Maltoni Wed Jul 11, 2007 via blog

    Toby: I particularly like this line: "Why should the hospital be a repository? If we were, then we would have to have blogging policies! That seems inherently contradictory to the idea of social media." It shouldn't. The hospital's job is to be a good hospital not to be a social media place. Well said.

  • by Toby Wed Jul 11, 2007 via blog

    Lewis and Valeria - Thanks for your comments. Until the culture of an organization is conducive to embracing social media, including understanding the risks and then finding ways to mitigate those risks, a personal "side step" blog is the way to go. Paul's blog is a great example of how to successful make that happen.

  • by CK Wed Jul 11, 2007 via blog

    Great piece and subject, Toby (and Paul!). I was so pleased to see Paul just jump on using his blog to help future doctors and healthcare leaders--and to set a fine model for other current leaders in so doing. Just goes to show how many points of value a two-way communications vehicle offers. I've shown several of my clients Paul's blog and it has helped open minds and lower resistance. So thanks to Paul for that, too ;-).

  • by Ann Handley Wed Jul 11, 2007 via blog

    " I was so pleased to see Paul just jump on using his blog to help future doctors and healthcare leaders--and to set a fine model for other current leaders in so doing." I completely agree, CK.. and nice interview, Toby. In my view, Paul is the poster child for CEOs in social media. I recognize that it can be scary and intimidating for corporate leaders -- but Paul does a very nice job in guiding the path. Kudos to you, Paul.

  • by Paul Levy Thu Jul 12, 2007 via blog

    Many thanks, Ann, and to others, too, for your kind comments.

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