A Gentle Appeal to Healthcare Social Media Thought Leadership

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

It takes courage to live a life of consistent integrity. Owning the occasional ‘wreckage of one’s presence’ (you know when things don’t go your way or as planned) can at times be an emotional and intellectual stretch. After all, we do live in a society that often embraces the transfer (vs. ownership) of one’s ‘guilt’ to another party. Whether you call it proactive risk management or ‘socio-pathetic’ behavior the common denominator is to distance oneself from the consequences of ‘failure’ or disappointment.

Let’s be real, we all have obligations including financial, professional, family, community, etc. Yet in our busy and challenging lives especially in a trying, somewhat unstable, and paradigm shifting digital economy honoring Sinclair’s challenge is a worthy reflection:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

More recently and perhaps best expressed by Steve Jobs’ legendary challenge to John Sculley, the then President/CEO of PepsiCo:

Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?

The same sensibilities if not value proposition choices remain with us today. If anything the stakes have gotten considerably higher.

Our ‘healthcare borg’ is failing many. It’s unrestrained appetite and unaccountable under-belly are no longer limited to internal esoteric debates among health policy wonks or healthcare leadership. The entire US economy is now at stake. So the question if not challenge I offer to the healthcare social media talent pool is:

what are you doing to advance the triple aim?

For those not necessarily tethered to the details of health policy, or transformational imperative debate, let me summarize the goal posts below, courtesy of Health Affairs:

Improving the U.S. health care system requires simultaneous pursuit of three aims: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care. Preconditions for this include the enrollment of an identified population, a commitment to universality for its members, and the existence of an organization (an “integrator”) that accepts responsibility for all three aims for that population. The integrator’s role includes at least five components: partnership with individuals and families, redesign of primary care, population health management, financial management, and macro system integration.

So with all due respect to your moral code, values and obligations (especially to those who sign your paycheck or who’s mouths you feed), ask yourself if your actions in social media advance the cause of the triple aim? If not, please re-evaluate how you are deploying these very powerful collaborative and engagement tools?

For example, is it in service of an unsustainable if not ‘value subtraction’ business model? If you have trouble connecting with ‘eligible entities’ or who might otherwise fit into this bucket, you might want to review Paul F. Levy’s recap of Clayton Christensen’s view of the health care world, as set forth in ‘The Innovator’s Prescription.’

So  be bold, use the power of these tools wisely. Just ask yourself: ‘what am I pretending not to know?’ Don’t be a vehicle that breaths life into failing or ‘net community negative’ institutions’ or interests. Take a stand! Make it about the ‘all in healthcare eco-system’.

More later on that one!


Join the Conversation


  1. A nice article.Social media can be an effective tool for marketing if properly used and administered.This can be of great importance especially to doctors who want to market their services online.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro.com

    1. Hi Erick and thanks for your comment.

      Using social media as a patient acquisition system to fill practices of physicians that don’t add value (i.e., sustainable community benefit) but otherwise is either neutral or merely exploiting fee for services incentives while they can, seems to me to be a BIG part of the problem. This is where the challenge can become a little dicey. WHat I am suggesting is that social media advisors or consultants who sell the services into the market, need discriminate the client practices they are willing to serve. Perhaps at some level, if the engagement included a bridge to an integrated practice environment with a volume to value mission, and social media was one tool in the arsenal, then the engagement would in my view ‘create value.’

      Thanks again for your reply.

  2. True that brother Gregg!
    Gonna be a long winding road & we are going to need a lot of body bags…
    We are at the very early stage of a healthcare renaissance that will transform US.
    We will need disruptive NewCos w/nothing to lose & Big lumbering healthcare incumbents that have the leadership, vision & courage to be part of the solution. We will need both to meet the Triple Aim!
    The secret weapon of course is the consumer/patient! We will need to DEMAND more & not settle for less. We will also need to BE ACCOUNTABLE to do our part!
    After all Health/Wellness is special!
    ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors: we borrow it from our children.”
    Native American Proverb
    Paulo Machado

    1. Thanks for the comment Paulo, and may I say ‘brother in arms?’ Yes, we do have a considerable challenge in general and hopefully the bulk of social media strategists will line up on the right side of the consumer demand cycle. And thanks for the native American wisdom!

  3. I think this popular story about starfish describes my efforts:
    Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

    One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

    As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

    He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

    The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

    “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

    To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

    Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

    At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

    1. Thanks John: I love the metaphor and will take the ‘road less traveled’ pat on the back as guidance and encouragement. Your comment is most appreciated!

  4. Well said Gregg! – I think the problem is still because of the lack of education on the business of medicine in our medical schools and residency programs. Doctors are not given the tools or the knowledge about social media, marketing, or any business whatsoever. Many are not even aware of how to choose an EMR! So we all have to work to get to the root of the problem.

    Once doctors get out of med schools and residencies, very few take it upon themselves to get proper education.

    After all, the business of medicine is just as important as the practice of medicine. One is 100% dependent on the other.

    Great article and website Gregg!

    1. Thanks Simon! Education, culture, determination, a willingness to look at the facts and act accordingly. It will take all of this and more. But what is the alternative? Business as usual no longer an option.

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