Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quality of Online Communication

A commentary on the quality of communication on “newage” communication platforms may be better understood with a short description of their niche audience and their unique characteristics. Typically communications via social and professional networks are more of a conversation, extension of every day interaction, not well organized content and driven by a group. YouTube has been elevated to a #2 search engine status and has been leading the transition between push and collaborative models. Key observation is that the secret sauce to get more viewers is to provide more details. Since the entry barrier is low, it is the easiest and safest for hospital to renew exposure to existing and new consumers. Facebook has the largest audience with 200m active users. The user demographics is shifting to match that of the real population. Even though it can be a confusing place, it has been emerging as a great place for patients to share stories. Twitter is the new kid in the block. It had generated quite an amount of media attention. It is simple to understand and start using. It is best used for conversation and not to push communication. It has evolved into gaining the fastest acceptance by hospitals. Typically the discussion earlier covers many other players in similar domains. Overall these communication platforms are efficient and effective in Community outreach, Real time education, Referring physicians and Crisis communication. ePatients (who are proficient on these tools) typically play an active role seeking out information, partner in their healthcare and is more participatory in their medicine (when compared to their paternalistic peers).

Typical areas of improvement on the quality of online communication (Blog and Facebook) are:

  • Blog: Blog requires the right target audience to be successful. The author needs to depict a blog “personality” that caters to the right audience. This can be accomplished by including a tagline with a logo and/or including a paragraph/phrase that depicts to the audience what this blog is and who it is for (Please refer for a list of examples)
  • Facebook: Facebook success is all about reader participation. Configure Facebook Page Settings to allow more participation. Raise questions that can spark conversation and activity. Adding a Twitter Tab and YouTube Tab can further expand participation. Limit the frequency of Status Updates to an optimal level (may be once a day). Using TwtPoll can engage the audience. Embedding the Facebook Page into a e-newsletter and requesting your current audience to suggest to Friends frequently can expand the audience pool.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It is exciting to experience the explosive growth in the Second Life for HealthCare domain. Most of the sites are geared towards training medical professionals, followed by research initiatives. The most impressive ones that I had experienced are Ann Myers Medical Center that assists students to become more proficient in initial exam history and physicals and the UC Davis’ Virtual Hallucinations that provides virtual hallucinations experiences.

The key observation is that unlike the fast paced world where the physicians and students are hard pressed for time, second life provides physicians and patients more interaction time, thus providing more time for patients to share and more time for physicians to listen and more time for both parties to know better. The escalated interaction between physician and patient provides opportunity psychologists to promote alternate treatment plans such as psychoimmunobiology that stimulates body’s ability to heal itself through the stimulation of the immune system and fight disease. Second life provides a digital brick and mortar environment where institutions such as UC Davis with its reputation provides the required creditability for patients to transport to and leverage the physician advice and digital resources offered at the UC Davis Second Life facility. With 60% of the Second Life avatars from outside of US, the Second Life institutions tend to cater to patients from across the globe. This enables patients to seek holistic treatment approaches from around the globe. The physicians training programs tend to expose them to treatment approaches and diseases that are currently not available locally in their home country and thus equip them to be treat patients from across the globe.

There are multiple challenges. Ability of the patient to articulate their symptoms or state of health is very critical. Physical expressions (that physicians observe) out number the subset of “Gestures” that are available in Second Life menu. Metaphors and linguistic expressions widely vary across the various parts of the world. Limitation of the technology to assimilate them into digital communication (for now) is still being worked in advanced labs such as LindenLab. Na'vi language (in Oscar nominated movie Avatar) that has a limited vocabulary of about 1000 words may be the preview of a global language that can be used to communicate in Global communities such as Second Life. Adoption of Second Life physician training and preliminary patient screening is critical for its success. Hospitals and research institutions have leveraged Second Life as a test bed for new technologies and processes (e.g., Electronic Medical Record had been experimented in various shapes and forms in many Second Life Medical institutions).
Here is my avatar gazing at the various Healthcare options in Second Life.
Here are a few of them that may be of interest to the readers:

UC Davis’ Virtual Hallucinations - experience virtual hallucinations
Ann Myers Medical Center: detailed in the write up
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - an educational opportunity
Heart Murmurs - listen to cardiac murmurs
Medical Library at Health Info Island - a medical virtual community
Virtual Neurological Education Centre - training for neurological disorder treatment on a virtual environment
Hottie Hospital - gynecology, sperm donation, sex therapy etc..
Wheelies @ Second Ability – Identify with people with disability by experiencing the use of a wheelchair
Play2Train - training for emergency preparedness such as mass casualty incident simulation.
The Gene Pool – take on your favourite chromosome

Sunday, March 7, 2010

WebMD- a critique key aspects

Authority/Source – This website is considered a credible consumer knowledge repository for health information. In spite of its affiliation with multiple products and services the website had insisted on its unbiased provision of trustworthy and accurate health information that is both practical and relevant.
Accuracy – Reaction from WebMD readers (hopefully not filtered) suggest that the information that they came across are consistent with the information from the other reliable sites such as National Institute of Health, Medline and the Mayo Clinic.
Credibility - The senior staff and editorial team of WebMD is constituted by three physicians whose specialization spans Nutrition, Heartburn, Epilepsy and Weight control. The process of ensuring the relevance and credibility of content in other areas is not transparent to the consumers. It is left for each consumer’s imagination as to why the current specialties were chosen to fill the editorial team.
Objectivity/Content – WebMD insists that information that it provides is not a substitute for professional healthcare. Since the references to the information on this site are clearly identified to the consumer, the consumer is aware of the sources.
Currency/Timeliness – WebMD displays the date for most or all of the health information articles. The site appears to be updated regularly.
Structured Access – Amidst all the ads, website is fairly easy to navigate. Consumers seem to be forgiving for the excessive ads for the credible content. The search engine is powerful in bringing the relevant sections. For most of the searches (that can be as simple as "back pain" or as complex like "spondylolysis,") the websites is capable in providing its consumers with information that not only spans just the causes and symptoms but also prevention, medications and treatment options. The search can lead you to videos and other reliable websites as well.
Beyond the “Call of Duty” – WebMD's drug finder is an outstanding tool that helps research a particular prescription or side effects due to a combination of multiple medications. It stretches itself to determine whether a generic brand is a suitable substitute to a name brand.
Overall Impression - First impression of the site can be negative as there is too much information packed into its home page with limited real estate (cluttered with blogs, articles, and advertisements). But once a consumer enters the site with a specific motive, it is apparent that the information is up-to-date, referenced, and credible. The site also provides many links to other known reputable sites for healthcare information. To summarize, in spite of the design flaws of the website its content make up for the lackluster design and make it one of the best consumer health research service provider. WebMD tirelessly works to earn the consumer trust (a critical success factor for Health Information Service Providers). One of the earlier WebMD homepage title tag listed - “WebMD—Trustworthy, Credible, and Timely Health Information.” The current title tag is “WebMD—Better Information Better Health.” May be, WebMD believes that they had earned the consumer trust and they are moving the consumers to its second phase (of a lead player in influencing Health decisions with Better information).

WebMD had scored 3.71 on a 4.0 scale on a Mequoda Website Scorecard in 2005. The Best practices indexes that it scored below an A (4.0) are Relationship Building (C – 2.0), Content Density & Readability (B - 3.0) and Page Load Time (B – 3.0). Please refer the url for details: