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SXSH: 10 Ways For Healthcare Organizations To Build Trust

When SXSW, one of the largest gatherings of minds and enthusiasts in the digital world, didn’t feature more than a handful of panels on the intersection between health and social media – an “unconference” event called SXSH sprung up to fill the void. Yesterday that event came together in Austin and included speakers and pioneers in using social media to communicate for health issues in regional hospitals, government agencies, health insurers, nonprofits, epatients and pharma companies. Just about every part of the healthcare world had some sort of voice in the discussion as everyone gathered to share ideas on how the industry as a whole might use social media more effectively by building greater trust.

The day long discussion featured many highlights, starting with a talk from Doug Ulman, CEO of Livestrong about the power of health based communities online and how important real time information is to improving healthcare and the patient experience. Greg Matthews from Humana shared how a health insurer can innovate internally and use that to improve patient relationships and Jenn Texada from MD Anderson shared how she and her communications team use social media tools to interact directly with patients for customer service. David Hale from the National Library of Medicine presented an innovative new database to help identify unknown pills called Pillbox and Fabio Gratton shared how to build a movement through a case study of the success of the #FDASM movement in November of last year around the FDA hearings. In the “unconference” part of the day, companies such as ReachMD and WEGO Health talked about their communities and content and how they help bridge the gaps between patients, doctors and healthcare providers.

In the final session of the day, I tackled the question of trust. A central issue in healthcare communications, the session posed the question: why don’t people trust us? Or more specifically, what creates the culture of distrust online that so often causes negativity towards some companies in healthcare and what could we as an industry do to combat this? Our aim in the session was to brainstorm ways that healthcare organizations could overcome these barriers and build more trust and credibility. The entire room then selected what they felt the strongest ideas were and I promised to compile the results into a single blog post – which you’ll find below. In the spirit of the unconference, all of us who managed to be part of the great discussion would love to hear your thoughts on any other ideas that we could add to this list too …

  1. Listen to and implement ideas from the community. Being part of a community or interacting with individuals is a great first step, but the real trust that can be built from this comes when people see some sort of action come as a result of the participation in a community. It is not the act of listening, but the impact of that listening which makes it real.
  2. Have shared values on good health. Often the distrust in healthcare organizations stems from a belief that priorities are mismatched. Our priority as a patient is to get healthy, and their priority seems to be offering more medication or delivering care in a more “efficient” way. In order to build trust, it is crucial that people feel our ultimate goals are aligned toward making them healthier. We need to focus on prevention instead of promotion.
  3. Answer your patient’s or customer’s concerns directly. With social media tools, people have the ability to broadcast their thoughts and desires. Often they are doing so because they are seeking a response. Having a smart listening program that can help you find these queries and a strategy for responding goes a long way towards demonstrating that you care and truly want to help.
  4. Aggregate or curate useful information. Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of information online, but a dearth of it. When information is scattered all over, it can become very confusing about what is credibile and which things to trust. One of the simplest roles for any healthcare organization to take is that of a curator of great content. By doing this, you can create resources for people that will be useful and demonstrate your commitment to their needs.
  5. Serve as a resource or guide for the community. One of the things that many organizations neglect is actively using the experts that you may have internally. When it comes to marketing and communications, part of the role should be to unlock the best voices from within an organization (many of whom may not necessarily be in the marketing or PR departments). By bringing these voices out and encouraging them to share information, you can connect patients and customers to the individuals who can truly bring insight and deliver thoughtful and useful information.
  6. Set expectations on what you do and why. Lack of trust can be based on a misunderstanding of motivations. There are times when people may assume that a policy or practice is done simply for financial reasons or because of legal motives when actually there are other concerns they don’t know. Being as transparent as possible about your decision process and thinking can go a long way to remove this misunderstanding.
  7. Focus on setting a clear mission for employees. The most trustworthy organizations often are the ones that have a very specific and defined vision that everyone is working to implement. When the message coming from employees is consistent, it goes a long way towards establishing a belief in the organization from outsiders because they know what the group stands for.
  8. Communicate results and outcomes. Large organizations in particular are often good about communicating outcomes or results in financial terms on a quarterly basis or some kind of cost related metric, but not as good about communicating impact of their efforts in human terms. To inspire belief, it is often the results in human terms that people respond to far more than the financial ones – so refocusing on how that story is told becomes vital.
  9. Recognize both sides of the issue or data. Many people inherently believe that data and reports presented by many healthcare groups (and pharma in particular) is delivered with a strong bias towards whatever is most self serving for the group. When information is not presented in a more balanced way, the likelihood that people will not believe it is entirely credible goes up.
  10. Build trusted long term relationships. Beyond all the other suggestions, the one thing that establishes a foundation for everything you do are the trusted relationships with influencers and individuals that you build online. You need a group of people who know enough about what you do and the real philosophy and thinking behind your actions that they can serve as vocal advocates for your brand if needed.

Note: This article and recap was originally posted on the Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence blog. For more pharma and healthcare related posts, check out our Healthcare featured archive on the Ogilvy site.

3 thoughts on “SXSH: 10 Ways For Healthcare Organizations To Build Trust”

  1. Hi Rohit:

    Nice post. I will be sharing with all of our HC clients.

    One recurring theme that shows up on all of our research on healthcare (delivery, applications, pharma) is that the patients have a HUGE information gap. They are actively seeking information because the system is simply not designed to answer their questions. Diagnoses are given without context, people are told what to do next without providing any discussion of alternatives, drugs are prescribed without discussions of why or trade-offs.

    Not to blame anyone, but the system is paid on a piece rate (how many your treat) so that is what comes out the other end.

    If a physician needs to see 40 patients a day to get paid fairly – then communication with each patient will suffer.

    Smart orgs will insert themselves into the middle of this gap and enable and provide better information.

    Tom O’Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  2. Tom – great comment as usual. You’re right, there needs to be a way that we can bridge this communication gap … and in a best case world, social media can fit into this in a way that makes BOTH the physician and the patient’s life better.


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Rohit is the author of 8 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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