Paul Levy, President and CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and blogger of Running A Hospital Blog is no stranger when it comes to innovation and loving a good challenge. In 2002, when Paul took the helm of the BIDMC, the hospital was on verge of being sold by the Commonwealth. In 2004, the medical center reported a $28 million dollar operating surplus.
With the hospital under control, Paul found a few extra seconds. In August of 2006, he added blogging to his To Do List and launched Running A Hospital Blog. In keeping with the mantra of social media (transparency, authenticity, honesty and passion), posts run from patient customer service concern to his views on social issues to health insurance to asking readers if he got paid too much and even the recipe of Beth Israel’s famous chocolate chip cookies.
The healthcare industry is fiercely competitive, especially in Boston, a city know for its hospitals and docs. In his post Opening Day Items Paul explains an out-of-the-box marketing initiative that dovetails with BIDMC’s Boston Red Sox partnership. BI Babies are sent home in co-branded baby caps and a certificate for a tour of Fenway Park on birthday number five. Idea: Tickets to a Red Sox game for “grown-up” BI Babies might be an interesting addition to a loyalty program. Disclosure: I am a BI Baby.
In an email chat Paul shared his views about the most democratic form of communication – blogs and social media – with me.
TB: It seems as though Running A Hospital Blog is your personal blog versus a “company blog.”
PL: This a personal blog. It is not published by the hospital.
TB: Why a personal blog and not a BI/Deaconess Medical Center blog a la Nick Jacobs?
PL: Dunno. I’m not sure it matters that much, but if it were an official organ of the hospital, I would probably feel compelled to have all posts reviewed by our General Counsel, press office, and other people inside the hospital. That would make it hard for me to write and post something at 5am or 10pm, when I do my writing.
Also, I would probably self-censor much more, knowing that things were going to be reviewed by corporate folks. I think currency and immediacy and spontaneity are important in keeping things interesting. Also, this way, my staff folks can honestly deny that they have any prior knowledge about what I have written! By the way, I like Nick’s blog a lot. He seems like a wonderful guy, and they are lucky to have someone with his experience, wisdom, and good humor.
TB: Do you think the hospital will adopt a social media strategy including blogs, blogger relations, etc? If so when? If not why not?
PL: With regard to blogs and blogger relations. Anyone can start his or her own blog in about 30 seconds. Why should the hospital be a repository? If we were, then we would have to have blogging policies! That seems inherently contradictory to the idea of social media.
If we did post blogs on our company website, wouldn’t we have to make the “space” available to all and then also have to insure that they met standards for honesty, accountability, grammar, spelling, HIPAA, good behavior, and the like? If you permit all blogs to be posted on the company website without standards, then you are inviting lawsuits.
So then I would have to have people enforce the standards. Why undemocratize the most democratic form of communication by imposing corporate standards on it when anybody in the company can already create their own site in the outside world? If it is good enough and interesting enough to attract readers, the word will get around.
We are, however, looking at wikis for a variety of purposes.
TB: Why has blogging been worth your time, energy and resources? What has surprised you about your blogging experience?
PL: Totally worth it, especially in terms of getting feedback from a wide variety of people throughout the world. It is like tapping into an incredibly extensive community.
TB: Are ideas and suggestions from comments distributed and/or utilized internally?
PL: Oh, yes. I pass along ideas to our folks, and we follow up.
Sidebar: Paul is listening also. In March Roy Young highlighted Running A Hospital Blog on a Daily Fix post.. CK offered an idea that Paul incorporated into his blog.
TB: How does your blog fit into Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Marketing/ Community Outreach Strategies.
PL: This is not the hospital’s blog. Strictly speaking, it is not tied into our business strategies, although I like to think that there is nothing in it that is inconsistent with our strategies.
TB: Did you have to first gain permission from your board?
TB: How are you handling HIPPA regulations?
PL: I follow them!
TB: What were the reactions from your peers?
PL: Some are very supportive, some are disdainful. Our physicians and nurses and other staff are very, very supportive.
TB: What are your feelings about Sermo? Particularly the inclusion of allowing investment firms to view postings and the possibility of inviting the pharma in?
PL: I have never read it. I don’t look at sites where you have to register.
TB: What will it take for social media to gain acceptance within the healthcare community, to the extent that blogs (and other tactics) are adopted?
PL: This will happen very slowly. It is not a field that encourages open expressions of feelings or positions.
TB: What would you tell other healthcare organizations and physicians who are considering launching a blog?
PL: Be prepared for a great adventure.
About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
One of the nation’s preeminent academic medical centers, providing state-of-the-art clinical care, research, and teaching in affiliation with Harvard Medical School. Licensed for about 600 beds, BIDMC annual clinical and research revenues are in excess of $1 billion. Overseen by a 20-member Board of Directors and with a staff of over 6,000 FTEs and a medical staff of over 700 physicians in thirteen clinical departments.
Thanks to Nick Jacobs for the intro to Paul Levy; another example of blog networking.