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Can Social Technologies Help a Healthcare Professional Organization?

Posted By Gonzalo Bacigalupe, Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 10, 2011

Julia, an active board member of a health care professional organization, noticed my recent twitter activity, such as:

Paternalism, participation & partnership: the evolution of patient centeredness in the consultation> <> #cfha

What physicians should discuss with families in relation to brain-activity? <> @NEJM

WashingtonPost: Experts Defining Mental Disorders Are Linked to Drug Firms> <> #dsm5

Financial Ties between DSM Panel Members & Pharmaceutical Industry #dsm5 (referee article) <>

Are people who sell Dickens novels depression enablers? #dsm5 generalized fail disorder <> @Adisson89 @helio_girl

Doctors need to EDUCATE THEMSELVES about complex ethical issues; they drop the ball with #BlackPatients on this all the time

What physicians should discuss with families in relation to brain-activity? <>

#behavioralhealth: Listening is good in #primarycare #cfha blog <> @miller7 @eastcoastkid01

Harvard Vanguard offers shared appointments. Great idea: meet w/your MD & other patients for 90 minutes #hcsmeu

Julia was intrigued by the possibilities that Twitter and other social technologies could offer to the organization in which she is a board member. How could these technologies help us in doing our work? Our members are located all over the world and some of us meet annually during a three days conference at some hotel. Sound familiar? After a few email exchanges and recognizing the difficulty at having a good discussion in which we could talk about what the question meant and the complexities involved in drafting some strategic plan related to social media, we set up a phone conversation to brainstorm.

For this organization, I suggested, the initial goals may be to set up a virtual office to archive the organizational memory of this professional association. At the moment, the documents are probably filed at various offices of former and present board members. Members could archive the organization documents at a secure server but could also just upload them to a GoogleDocs account. The same set-up would allow various members of the board or committees to work on shared documents rather than getting confused with email attachments. Having the documents in a server could allow the organization to share them with everyone or a selected group.

How about a Wiki? I ask. With a wiki, board members could upload and download documents and at the same time display them. The wiki would also allow members to have threaded discussions. In the later case, the group could use the freely available wikis or pay a small sum and have a wiki that could be shaped according to their own identity. These two simple technologies are so easy to use and it is amazing how many organizations or groups seem either unaware or a bit resistant to use them.

A second goal would be to strengthen the ability to maintain transparent communication between and among the board and the general membership. For that, I suggested that the organization webpage could add a simple WordPress blog. The blog could be open to everyone arriving to the website or it could be password protected. If the board was worried that the entries could be not appropriate for a professional organization, it would be very easy to just set it up so that a board or various board members approve the publication of the comments. Like wikis, setting up a blog is a fairly straightforward procedure and it can become a terrific vehicle to share something and then engage all comers in the dialogue.

When we arrived to the issue of Twitter, we talked a lot about the hash tags. Like the ones some of us use to identify an entry that may be of interest to CFHA members. In this case #cfha <> , creating a hash tag and "owning it" via What the Hashtag?! <> By creating a hash tag, anyone could enter into a dialogue that it is relevant to the organization without requiring all members to follow each other's tweets directly. Hash tags also help groups to generate discussions.

During the conversation, Julia asked me about Facebook. Would Facebook help us network? My response was less positive when discussing Facebook. I have found that at least two important issues emerge when thinking about Facebook in relation to professional organizations.

One, a lot of professionals are concerned about the issue of privacy. If they have an account, they think that joining a group will mean that everyone in the organization will know about their private lives. It is not the case but it is hard to explain and the concern is persistent, in part because of fear and in part because Facebook made some bad decisions in this regard at various points of its evolution. There are other concerns, for many, Facebook is still a mystery, despite the tremendous growth, many join and then they don't have a clue of how to manage it or even login back again.

And two, if one is able to overcome these hurdles, I have found that Facebook groups are for the most part not very active. The problem is that members of groups are not able to know if new information is being shared unless they visit the group. Therefore, groups grow but then they become sort of a static shared webpage rather than an interesting and evolving dialogue among peers.

My advice to Julia was to try LinkedIn and to motivate a few members to join twitter and begin using it to discuss issues of interest. LinkedIn is popular among those trying to get a consultation gig or are looking for a job. For an organization though, LinkedIn offers the ability to organize groups and the interface is less distracting. For the adventurous, I told Julia, setting up a Ning social network group for her organization would be a great way of consolidating the features we discussed. But Ning will require a larger commitment and it may not be as compelling to her core membership.What are your professional association social networking needs?

Have you started thinking about moving some of the annual activities into a virtual platform?

Will these social technologies generate more interest in becoming a member of your organization?

Or, the contrary, people will ask themselves, why do I have to pay for membership in this organization if we can just organize via the digital technologies?

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