The Social Health Correction

March 19, 2012

I can’t help but wonder if we’re in the midst of a social health correction – a readjustment of expectations and beliefs about the near-term potential of social media to revolutionize health.  I suspect that this achieved peak trajectory around 2009.  The conversations were heady – Twitter would fix our problems.  Facebook would revolutionize how doctors communicate with patients.

But with respect to physicians, we didn’t listen to Clay Shirky’s suggestion that social tools don’t create new motivations as much as they reinforce existing ones.  Facebook can’t make a dysfunctional doctor-patient relationship functional.  Unhappy, overworked doctors don’t engage.

All of our ideas were fueled by the echo of our personally tailored health communities.  We created filter bubbles that allowed us to hear the messages of those telling us precisely what we wanted to hear.  We saw the rise, plateau, and ultimate dissolution of social media consultants who would save us by telling us how to correctly use Twitter.

There’s the temptation to misinterpret the social health correction as validation of the belief that it was all just a phase.  But democratized media and the information revolution have changed things forever.  We were just ahead of ourselves in believing how fast it would go and in which direction it would turn.

Corrections are good.  Social and the march of technology and networked patients will continue to do amazing things.  They just won’t save health care as fast as we expected.


Mike Sevilla, MD March 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

I agree with this evaluation for people like us who are the first adopters. However, I talk to a lot of physicians, hospitals, organizations, and other groups who are RIGHT NOW where we were in 2009 – meaning that they’re curious about social platforms and want to explore further. I want to try to encourage this curiosity with these groups, because, hey, they may have other ideas and solutions to help us through our social health correction…

DrV March 19, 2012 at 9:08 am

That’s interesting, Mike. I’ve noticed the same thing. Over the past several months there has been a significant uptick in interest in SoMe among docs. Of course, I’m separating interest in adoption from irrational exuberance. But point well taken. It may be that there’s a unique business opportunity as these doctors move in.

Phil Baumann March 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

We covered this ground in 2009. And in 2008. And long before that.

You’re assertion that social media will revolutionize health is misguided with all due respect.

There’s nothing revolutionary about knowing how to tweet and blog. Nothing – and I say this as early early adopter, as someone who started the first Twitter chats for doctors and nurses and who has built numerous communities via these software.

What’s revolutionary are the changing conditions which give rise to new perspectives and behaviors.

Social media are slivers of those conditions.

There are more doctors and nurses using Twitter now – and many have never heard of the Twitter chats or Healthcare social media blogs – or nor do they need to: they’re figuring it out fine on their own.

There is no Correction in social media – there’s just people blogging about social media still trying to figure it out in the echo chamber of social media about social media. ;-)

DrV March 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Thank you for the correction about the correction.

Phil Baumann March 22, 2012 at 8:25 am

There is no correction, Bryan.

DrV March 22, 2012 at 10:47 am

That’s not correct.

e-Patient Dave March 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

I’m SO glad I get to gloat :) and say that at the Aligning Forces for Quality annual meeting last fall, I projected to the Gartner Hype Cycle, and said “Expect us to enter the Trough of Disillusionment soon.” :-) As Gartner says, it always follows the Peak of Inflated Expectations.

Great graphic:

Because the expectations were inflated (as you correctly recount), the disillusionment plunge is deep. Once the gut feel of the moment finishes, what’s actually changed (and is persistent) emerges.

Reed Smith March 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Good stuff.

I think we (hospitals) ran into this space because it was shiny and new. Now we are starting to realize this is about communications and operational improvements to untimely impact patient experience…. not…. I need to be on Facebook b/c everyone else is.

Mike – you are also correct. The hospitals I work with are untimely behind the times. The philosophy of content creation, blocking social internally, etc. are still the issues hospitals deal with and will continue to deal with for a period of time.

Lets just hope we can head off future corrections ; )

Nick Dawson March 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Been thinking about this post for almost 24 hours now…

While I agree with your observations – and Dave’s Trough of Disillusionment quote sums it up well – I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion.

Two things have happened: First, we’ve hit a saturation point. Mike suggests there are still many for whom 2012 is 2009 and that’s probably too, but the vocal majority has already had it’s 15 minutes of fame. Secondly, I anecdotally suspect many providers and healthcare organizations (read: hospitals) are feeling a little crestfallen about the results…or lack of them.

To be more candid, I suspect many providers thought social media was going to be a marketing gold mind and flood them with net-savvy patients.

If I have a hope for this “correction” (great term), it’s that providers start to think about how social tools can affect outcomes and quality. Maybe that’s a focus on population health. Certainly it is more of the kind of content you, Wendy Sue and Mike contribute to the interwebs: clinical expertise, opinion rooted in science, general advice…

Regardless, I’m willing to be the other side of this correction will be a focus on “the meaningful use” of social media in healthcare. Way to carry the torch!

Unrelated – when I first read the title, my brain went to public health. I’ve been researching some thoughts around a post along those lines ever since :) Are we in the midst of a societal health correction too?

Nick Dawson March 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

note to self: proof your comments before hitting post Nick

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