Archive for February, 2011

Twitter for professional development & collaboration… aka my Twitter “aha” moment”

I was going to write a post today about the Top 10 reasons why using Twitter helps me in my job.

But then I went back and read Colleen Young’s post on “Why add #hcsmca to your tweets”, and decided that pretty much the same things apply. So I’ll suggest you read her post instead.  And I’ll add a couple of new pieces of context.

  1. When I started pulling together the social media strategy for the hospital, I was struggling to find examples of the use of social media for patient support. I found more things in one afternoon with Twitter than in one month with my old best friend, Google.
  2. I’ve met lots of incredibly knowledgeable people working through the exact same challenges I am working through.  Some have been at it longer than I have, some for less time — but both provide me with new ideas and support.
  3. I doubled my take-aways from an OHA conference on community engagement which I attended — by reading the tweets from other people at the same conference.  It was funny how they took completely different things from the same presentations.  It was kind of like borrowing some one else’s poli sci notes back in university.

I tweet for my hospital, and I tweet for myself.  I try to keep the two distinct — even though they are both work-related.

Originally I had opened my own account only as a practice ground before launching the hospital into the world of Twitter. I learned more than I expected.

But my big “aha” moment didn’t really come until I discovered #hcsmca.  If you haven’t discovered it yet, check out this link.  It is an incredible on-line community of people interested in health and social media (but not necessarily just health and social media).  I peruse the hashtag stream through Tweetdeck throughout the week, when I have time.  And I try not to miss the weekly tweetchats, Wednesdays at 1 pm.  Not all the topics on Wednesdays are completely up my alley, but I figure you need to give some to get some.  And I’ve gotten plenty.  So I regularly grab a coffee, shut my office door…and prepare to read and type fast.

Through the #hcsmca stream I’ve come across other topic hashtags that have also been interesting or useful for various projects.  So I like to think of #hcsmca as kind of a home base, from which I take lots of day trips.

There are lots of other health hashtag communities to follow, like #MDChat, #RDChat, #hcsm, #hcsmeu, #mentalhealth, #mhsm, #patientsafety… and the list is endless.  Mental health, palliative care and chronic pain all seem to have very active communities.  Oddly, I haven’t yet found “the” hashtag for kids health topics (my main area of interest).

Does anyone have a suggestion for a new hashtag for me to love?

Hearing from…the people that…we are listening to

On Monday I talked about “listening” on Twitter. It is always interesting to read tweets about your hospital because you better understand your patients’ experience.

If you’d like to see a powerful example, check out this blog from Pamela Stewart.  Pam gave birth to twins in November and little baby Hailey was in our ICU for a month. Pam regularly blogged and tweeted about the experience, posting photos along the way. 

I asked Pam’s permission to refer to her tweets as a case study, and she was kind enough to say yes. Unfortunately, I can’t send you a link to her tweets from that time period, but if you visit the blog, and scroll down to the beginning of November, you’ll get an idea for the stories she told through her tweets.   

Pam has been on Twitter since November 2009 and is a very active tweeter — sometimes tweeting a couple of times a day, and sometimes 10 or 20.  She is also an avid blogger and Facebook user.  Here is what she had to say about her social media activities: 

“I find social media a rich interactive sharing environment where not only friends and family could and would benefit from my updates, but others lesser known to me could also participate, learn, interact and offer support and information, not to mention empathy for the situations in which we found ourselves.

I also use Twitter as my ‘google’ often asking questions and getting answers or confirmation that my hunches are right via first-hand accounts and experienced responses. 

I haven’t had issues sharing my daughter’s condition online, but then, I operate on the perhaps naïve belief that the benefits are worth the risks associated with doing so.  Until I am burned, I wish to openly share and interact, and while I don’t do so ignorantly without any awareness of the issues that might arise, I do in fact ignore a number of cautionary tales and hope that it won’t happen to me.

The positive results, well….a more connected Mommy, feeling supported, loved and thought of by many while we struggled to get through. We found others via twitter and the blog who also suffered through CDH babies’ ordeals, and got incredible information and first-hand accounts to help us cope and learn what to expect – not to mention made new friends as a result.

And of course, my blog allowed me to ‘deal’ with what was happening. I find writing cathartic, and so my blog was almost a personal journal to me, allowing me to vent and express my feelings; the only difference being that my musings were being read and love and support was pouring forth as a result.”

Thank you Pam.  I really appreciate your sharing your story and answering some additional questions.  As hospitals learn more about social media, it is really useful to understand how and why our patients use it themselves.  I think we all still have a lot to figure out, and it is helpful if we talk it through.

Back in November and December when I was monitoring my hospital’s Twitter account, I couldn’t help but see Pam’s tweets.  And when, one day, I saw her tweet that her daughter was discharged from the hospital, I couldn’t help but smile and give a little cheer!

So here is an interesting question for other hospitals or healthcare groups…when you see tweets like this, do you respond with encouragement and support  or do you try to maintain a bit of a distance — both to uphold the patient’s right to privacy and to maintain appropriate clinical boundaries? 

And, if any patients happen to read this, what do you think?


Improve your engagement through tweetcasting

I’ve very excited to welcome our first guest blogger to SMiCH!

Dave Bourne from the Scarborough Hospital was nice enough to write this post about his hospital’s recent experience with Tweetcasting.

Take it away Dave…


Health care communicators have long known that community engagement is an important part of our role—the challenge has been finding innovative and meaningful ways to do so.

The rise of social media has provided many exciting new options for connecting with our audiences. This blog is an excellent example of how a niche group can now engage and collaborate with each other in a convenient, geographically neutral space. Health Care Social Media Canada’s (#hcsmca) Twitter community is another terrific forum for this same group—the amount of sharing, conversation and collaboration that takes place daily is quite outstanding, and would have been difficult, or at least incredibly inconvenient, just a few short years ago.

Last week, I took the #hcsmca weekly tweet chat a step further, and tweetcasted one of our hospital events. The purpose was to take a live speaker series event and share highlights with a much broader audience on the Internet. Twitter allowed me to tweet out quick excerpts of interest from the presentations, and to respond to feedback or questions from followers.

This was actually my second attempt at tweetcasting; last November I tried a similar experiment with one of our town hall meetings. I learned a few lessons that made this recent tweetcast much easier to manage. Here are some tips to consider if you plan to Tweet a live event:

  1. Plan ahead. If you can get copies of presenters’ speaking notes ahead of time, you can actually put together a rough outline of your entire tweetcast. Trying to listen to a speaker, absorb key points and share them in 140 characters or less is a tough job—trust me. You still need to be alert for deviations from script, or questions from the audience, but having a pre-written outline helps get you through the tweetcast.
  2. Don’t try to tweet everything the presenter says. Where possible, link followers to online resources for more information. Again, this is where advance planning really helps prepare a more fulsome tweetcast. Think of sports broadcasts, where the network weaves in occasional interview clips, stats graphics or announcer analysis—these are all techniques for a giving the audience interesting, value-added material that complements the actual broadcast.
  3. Use a unique hashtag. It’s easier for people to follow along when you choose a hashtag for your event. Append all your tweets with that tag, and you’ll create a conversation thread. It will also make it easier to create an archive after your event.
  4. Promote your tweetcast shamelessly! Figure out who your online audience is, and look for ways to reach them directly in advance of your event. Are there Twitter communities related to your topic? Facebook groups? Share your tweetcast information and drum up some support. It’s amazing what a few well-placed retweets can do to spread your message.
  5. Follow up after the event. Post an archive of the discussion on your web site or blog so there is a permanent record of the chat. Share the link with the same groups that helped you promote your event online. If appropriate, you can also post additional information from the event that wasn’t part of the tweetcast—PowerPoint slides, videos, podcasts, photos—the richer the media, the more your online audience will appreciate it.
  6. Get a dashboard. Free programs such as TweetDeck or HootSuite make it much easier to stay on top of emerging conversations. The dashboard design allows you to monitor the current discussion thread (identified by the unique hashtag you’ve chosen), as well as Mentions, Retweets and Direct Messages. Essentially, a dashboard program allows you to display all those feeds, side by side—an option that Twitter doesn’t provide on its own.

 So how did tweetcasting benefit us? Well, based on the retweets, mentions and DMs I saw, there was a small but engaged group of followers reading the feed. I received four questions from followers, three of them from Direct Messages. During the tweetcast, we picked up several new followers, all of them with a specific interest in aging and eldercare issues. Not bad.

Ann Fuller, who maintains this blog, asked me about our ROI for the event. Here’s where I struggle—and judging by several #hcsmca posts in recent months, I’m not alone). I know how much money was spent to host the live event, how many attendees we had, the tone and volume of our media hits, and the sort of feedback we received from audience surveys. What is difficult to calculate is the true value of the social media component. In our industry, how do you calculate the value of a follower or a retweet?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do, however, know that there is always value in engaging with your target audiences. It takes time, and therefore an implied investment, to build a truly engaged audience. We can’t ignore the importance of trying to determine ROI for our social media efforts, but perhaps the real benefits are less about money and more about improving brand, reputation and goodwill. All of which, I would argue, are excellent—if difficult to measure—indicators of success.

Dave Bourne,
Manager of Corporate Communications
The Scarborough Hospital

A week’s worth of Twitter

I’m a total Facebook addict so when colleagues told me that Twitter was twice as good as Facebook, I didn’t believe them.

Now I do. 

This week I’m dedicating SMiCH to posts on Twitter:

  • Today I’ll talk a bit about our experience using Twitter for the hospital.  
  • I’m very excited to report that tomorrow we’ll have our first guest post from David Bourne from Scarborough Hospital, which just had its first tweetcast. They live tweeted a hospital event on elder care and he is going to tell us all about it.  (Thank you David!)
  • On Wednesday I’ll talk about why, as a hospital communicator, I like to use Twitter for professional development, problem solving and idea generation.
  • On Thursday we’ll talk about how to get started on Twitter.
  • And, for some Twitter best practices, please check out SMiCH on Friday.

If anyone has a suggestion for something else that should be included, please let me know.  Or if anyone would like to make an editorial contribution, that is most welcome too!

Hospital Tweets
While we have more fans of our Facebook page than followers on Twitter, we tend to get more engagement through Twitter.  People in the community are very active at retweeting our information, and we are slowly building an on-line community.

We now tweet two to five times per day, mainly about health tips and hospital news.

It is interesting to see which tweets get retweeted the most, as it is potentially a good gauge of what information is most useful to our community.  I say that is “potentially” a good gauge because the timing of our tweets surely also impacts the frequency of retweeting. We are just starting to look into that now. And since our average twitter follower is a parent in the community, I’m sure we’ll see some interesting trends regarding when parents are on-line. Would we get more retweets if we tweeted in the evening after the kids were in bed? I don’t know, but I’ll report back later.

While we have separate French and English Facebook pages, we have only one Twitter account.  We tweet in both languages.  When we retweet, we do it only in the language of the original tweet.


More interesting to me is reading what other people are tweeting about us. I’ve read tweets from people waiting in our Emergency, looking for parking, and working as a volunteer.  And, I have to say,  it is very interesting to read about your hospital through the eyes of a parent whose child is in your care.  New mothers are often very heavy users of Twitter and other social media tools. I know I was!


I use Tweetdeck to monitor tweets referencing @CHEOhospital or just #CHEO or “CHEO”.  I’m considering moving to Hootsuite, and I’d love to hear from you on the pros & cons of each. 

(As an aside, “CHEO” appears to be a very popular Latin name and the name of a popular musician. So while “ScarboroughHospital” may take up lots of valuable real estate within the 140 characters, I bet they don’t have to sort through lots of tweets in Spanish!)

We monitor tweets two to four times a day.  So far the volume isn’t very high, so it only takes a few minutes per day.  


So far, I’d say that most of the interaction we see is people retweeting our health information and our fundraising events.  And we’ve had a good smattering of people tweeting about the good care their child, or a friend’s child, has received while in our care — which is always nice to hear. But here are a few other interactions so that you can see a broader sample:

  • Someone tweeted about coming to a clinic appointment and paying for parking, only to find out the clinic appointment was cancelled because the doctor wasn’t in that day.  Ouch, right? We responded apologizing, because every clinic appointment is important.  And we referred them to our Patient/Family representative in case they’d like to discuss it further. BTW, is is very important that you discuss your social media approach with your Patient/Family representative (or whoever handles patient complaints). 
  • We saw one very derogatory tweet about the hospital made by one of our employees.  His manager spoke to him and explained our social media policy.
  • We saw an interesting exchange between several people about the age of consent for kids in hospital — and when physicians should act on consent from the child versus the parents, particularly when they don’t agree on a clinical direction.   Age of consent is a grey area, so we provided a bit of context and then gave them contact information to discuss it further if they wanted to.

One of my favorite Twitter accounts is the Montreal Children’s Hospital.  Pamela, their webmaster, once told me that they try to use the rule of thirds for social media content — 1/3 useful health information, 1/3 hospital news or promotions and 1/3 engaging their audience with questions.  I think that is a great rule and they do a great job implementing it.  We still struggle with engaging our audience with questions.


Since launching our Twitter account, we’ve struggled about who we should follow.  Obviously, we’ve followed good sources of trusted health information like Safe Kids Canada and Ottawa Public Health.  And we’ve followed leaders in the community, and people who are active fundraisers.  And we’ve even followed some of our patients — their stories can be so riveting.  But in hindsight, following our patients was the wrong thing to do.  To understand why, check out this post by social media expert Ed Bennett:

“There’s no reason for a hospital to “follow” their patients. It’s invasive, and doesn’t benefit either party. We are not the same as other businesses. We are not selling shoes like Zappos or Cable TV like Comcast, two examples of corporate best practices on Twitter. We are touching peoples lives at their most personal and vulnerable point – and that connection requires discretion and respect in our part.

I believe that social networking tools like Twitter are the future of the Internet. But it’s important that we, as large, powerful organizations use these tools in a sensitive, understanding way. Respect the privacy and boundaries of our patients, and we will earn the right to be part of the conversation.”

I don’t think anything could say it better.

The many faces of Twitter

Of course, there are many other ways for hospitals to use Twitter, besides sharing of health information and listening to their community.  Among them:

  • Help recruit patients for clinical trials or recruit new hospital staff
  • Tweetcasting hospital events, like annual general meetings, to provide transparency to the public.  IWK in Halifax did this last year.  
  • Hold tweet chats with your community on key health topics, helping to answer their questions.
  • Tweetchats among patients with similar health conditions, so they can provide mutual support.
  • Seeking patient and community input on various topics.
  • Here is an interesting case in Belgium of using Twitter in the Emergency room. Assignments for dispatch, triage, doctors and nurses are tweeted so that everyone stays informed, including patients.
  • Live tweeting cutting-edge surgeries as part of an on-going academic and teaching mandate. Henry Ford does this in the U.S., and I’ve heard Grey’s Anatomy has done it too.

According to regular tweeter Phil Baumann, there are 140 uses for Twitter in healthcare.  Of them, we’ve only tried four or five.  I’d be interested in hearing experiences that other hospitals might have had with the other 135.

More to follow!


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