Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who will Drive Social Media Use in Health Care? Part 3

This is the last of a three part series examining how various groups will drive social media use in health care.  Part one considered the impact of physicians and part two discussed the role of the pharmaceutical industry.  This week’s post examines the evolving and growing role of the federal government, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).    
HHS has become an active participant in social media with its role extending well beyond regulation.  As the HHS Center for New Media observed, social media tools enhance the government’s ability to share information with stakeholders, increase public engagement and participation and improve collaboration within and across departments and agencies.  
HHS: social media champion
HHS created its Center for New Media to actively promote and support social media adoption throughout the department.  The site contains extensive information for HHS agencies on why social media is important, how to get started, what tools are available and policies governing social media use.  Agencies within HHS have responded enthusiastically.  As of July 2011 there are 96 Twitter accounts, 64 Facebook accounts, 32 blogs, 24 YouTube channels, 9 Flickr accounts and 41 podcasts.  These social media channels represent a wide range of agencies within the department, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others.     
Some agencies within the department, such as the CDC, have developed considerable social media expertise.  An excellent example of this expertise is the CDC’s publication, The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit.   The CDC recently demonstrated its mastery of social media with the wildly popular Zombie Apocalypse post on its Public Health Matters blog.  The post, written as a way to get the public interested in disaster preparedness, was so popular it ended up crashing the CDC website.  To date there have been 341 comments on the post.
Promoting education, engagement and collaboration
As an authoritative source of health information, HHS is using social media to educate and engage patients and clinicians on a wide range of health issues.  The campaign is an outstanding example of how the federal government has used social media campaign to communicate with and engage the public about seasonal flu vaccination.  In addition to providing information about the flu, HHS is also using crowd sourcing to create educational campaigns. The CDC’s Flu App Challenge recently awarded $35,000 to nine developers who created mobile and web apps, games and other tools designed to raise awareness and educate consumers about the flu.  In 2009 HHS sponsored a  video PSA contest on flu prevention.
Another interesting example of social media use by HHS is the AHRQ’s Effective Care Program.  This site is designed to help both patients and clinicians determine the best treatment options for a variety of diseases.  Additionally, the AHRQ allows visitors to suggest topics for upcoming treatment guides. The AHRQ also encourages sharing and promotion of its clinical information.   It has created widgets which allow clinicians and other professionals to embed links to AHRQ reports within their websites or blog.  
HHS is also using social media to foster collaboration and encourage innovation among scientists and industry leaders in the public and private sectors.   Through its Health Data Initiative, HHS, in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, is expanding public access to its abundant health data.  Its stated goal is to “harness the power of data, technology and innovation to improve the health and welfare of the nation.”   HHS has used social media tools, including a blog and Twitter account to promote awareness about the initiative.  In June 2011 it sponsored the 2nd Annual Health Data Initiative.  The event, attended by members of the scientific and business community, was streamed and tweeted live (#healthapps). 
Promising signs
Finally, HHS is using social media tools to communicate directly with external audiences.  On July 19, 2011 the FDA released  its proposed regulation of mobile medical apps.  That same day the FDA hosted a Twitter chat to answer questions related to the proposed regulation.  As noted on the Wego Health Blog, the use of a Twitter chat seems ironic given the FDA’s delay in issuing guidance on social media regulations for health care companies.  Still, it is encouraging to see the FDA actively participating in social media, a medium which it will be monitoring and regulating.  

At a time when the US faces rising health care expenditures and numerous public health challenges, the widespread adoption of social media by HHS is an unexpected bright spot in the health care landscape.  


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