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10/29/2010
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Texas Health Taps Social Media To Promote EHR

FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube direct users to a site Texas Health Resources created to promote its use of electronic health records.

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What good is implementing electronic health records (EHRs) if nobody knows about it? Not much, according to Texas Health Resources, a 24-hospital health system located in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

To makes employees, clinicians and the public aware of the massive implementation -- which has spanned five years and millions of dollars --people such as Ferdinand Velasco, M.D., vice president and chief medical information officer at THR, are encouraging the use of social media to get out the word.

"THR has invested quite a bit in our EHR (from Epic Systems Corporation) which we have now deployed at the majority of our hospitals, so it's a great idea to leverage social media in a formal way as part of our branding campaign," he said.

Specifically, THR uses FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube to drive traffic toward a site it created two months ago promoting its EHR. On the site, Velasco is featured in short videos answering questions and demonstrating the advantages of getting away from paper. Currently, the site offers five videos, each about five minutes in length. In one video, Velasco talks about a physician in an urban practice talking to another in a rural office. With the EHR, "They are literally on the same page about the patient," he said.

So far, THR has not focused on collecting online traffic statistics. "In a sense, this is experimental," he said. "We really didn't feel the need to collect a ton of metrics initially."

But even if the site weren't getting tons of looks, the material doesn't go to waste. Velasco said THR executives leverage, or repurpose, the content by showing the videos to physicians and other interested parties when opportunities arise. "That's the idea behind virtualizing the public relations campaign - to make it package-able and reusable on an as-needed basis. That's why I don't recommend you spend a lot of time and effort putting a major production together. This way, it allows you to grow organically as the need for information evolves and emerges through those interactions."

THR, like most healthcare organizations, has come a long way in its attitude toward social media. Four years ago, Velasco says, most social media sites were blocked, but when CIO Ed Marx came on board, that all changed. At that point, "We adopted a more permissive attitude toward social media - first removing those restrictions, and no longer blocking access internally, and then more formally taking a proactive role and actually leveraging it to promote the brand."

But with access must come control, according to Velasco, who said the key to leveraging social media is instituting and enforcing guidelines. Ultimately, he advises other organizations give it a whirl. "Just try it - have some folks who are innovative and creative do it. Just make sure it is done in a way that is consistent with your institutional policies, and then watch it grow. You have to start somewhere, and you can't do it in a formalistic way, it has to be grass roots, from the ground up."

For those who block all access to social media, Velasco said it's important to think about the message that sends to employees. "Largely the way I think we're approaching this is one of trust - we're hiring these people to take care of our patients. If we trust them with that, how can we not trust them with things like using social media responsibly?" Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of healthsystemCIO.com, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at aguerra@healthsystemCIO.com.

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