Mayo Clinic's Insights on Social Media

Addressing Privacy While Capitalizing on New Media
Lee Aase of the Mayo Clinic has simple advice for healthcare organizations that are waiting on the sidelines when it comes to using social media because of concerns about maintaining patient privacy: "It's not just about minimizing risk; it's about maximizing rewards."

The Mayo Clinic is a pioneer in the widespread use of social media as a way to market its services as well as foster collaboration among clinicians. Social media "are powerful communication tools that can be used productively," said Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

In an interview (transcript below) following his presentation at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference, Aase:

  • Describes Mayo's newly formed Social Media Health Network, which offers healthcare organizations an opportunity to learn from Mayo's experiences and share lessons with each other.
  • Outlines why Mayo's social media guidelines are based on its existing, broader policies regarding maintaining patient privacy, guarding trade secrets, using the Internet during work hours and other issues.
  • Emphasizes the need to educate staff members about appropriate uses of social media by using a combination of blogs, webcasts, conferences and other options.
  • Stresses the need to develop a corporate culture that emphasizes serving the best interests of patients, including maintaining their privacy.

Aase is director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, which builds on Mayo Clinic's leadership in adopting social media tools. Mayo Clinic has the most popular medical provider channel on YouTube and popular outposts on Twitter and Facebook. It offers a news blog, podcast blog and Sharing Mayo Clinic, a blog that enables patients and employees to tell their Mayo Clinic stories. Aase also is chancellor of Social Media University, Global (SMUG), a free online higher education institution that provides practical, hands-on training in social media.

HOWARD ANDERSON: For starters, why don't you tell us a little bit about the Mayo Clinic Center for social media. What services does it offer to other hospitals and clinics? And tell us about the Social Media Health Network.

LEE AASE: The Social Media Health Network is associated with our Center for Social Media. The idea behind the center is to help Mayo Clinic most effectively use social media to improve healthcare to fight disease, to promote health, and for both internal collaboration as well as externally and connecting with key stakeholders, whether they be other researchers or patients. Through the Social Media Health Network, what we're offering organizations, whether they be hospitals or pharmaceutical companies or biotech or device companies or public health groups or patient foundations -- anybody who wants to use social media in the health space - is an opportunity to learn together.

ANDERSON: So you are a facilitator for that learning?

AASE: Right. We've got a model for that in our Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center, which was a convener of conversations around the whole idea of health reform. And it's not so much that we want to dictate the terms of the conversation but just to say we want to have a seat at the table. And so one way to have a seat at the table is to build the table and to get people together that are interested in health reform. We're doing something similar to that on the social media side, building on the leadership that we've had in our adoption of social media. ... This gives a chance in a more formal way to share what we've learned, but also then to learn from others too because this is such a new area and there is a lot to learn.

Social Media Policy

ANDERSON: Organizations making extensive use of social media have to take precautions to make sure the patient information remains private as they're using it. What are some of the essential elements of a social media policy? I know you've developed one at Mayo that can help ensure no patient information makes its way onto social media. Is it all about education, or is it more than that?

AASE: Well education is the big thing. We don't call it a social media policy; it's guidelines. The reason we do that is because it's just an interpretation of existing policies for the social media space. ... the privacy policies, confidentiality, trade secret protection, the policy on use of the Internet during work hours -- they all apply to social media just as they do in other areas. It's like protected health information can be divulged in an elevator conversation. It can be divulged by a fax machine, by phone, by people overhearing things. And so what we do is provide education. We say, "Hey, remember you shouldn't be talking about a patient on the elevator because you never know if somebody else is with you and might overhear something and they might be able to connect that information with the individual patient." It is that same kind of thing with social media.

We need to provide training because social media is a new area, especially for the thirty-plus crowd, but also for the younger crowd. They just think of Facebook, for instance, as something they use all the time, and they may not make the connection (to privacy issues). So the education is a huge part.

ANDERSON: So your social media guidelines are built on broader privacy policies you had in place and you just applied them to the new media?

AASE: Right, so it's all of our things like mutual respect policies -- it's not just a privacy and security thing. The first line in our guidelines, which are available on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog for the world to see, is "Remember to follow all applicable Mayo Clinic policies." ... We list specific links to what those policies are and provide some additional reminders that this is what it means in this context.

Social Media Education

ANDERSON: Is there a particular best way to train staff members in appropriate uses of social media?

AASE: Well we're working on that. I mean, it's hard to know. We're developing a curriculum; we're using the tools to teach the tools. So we're using a blog to provide the online training on the use of online tools. But certainly we'll have a mixture of face-to-face kinds of opportunities as well, and we're holding a conference in Jacksonville next month; it isn't all about privacy and security, but those are among the things that will get covered. We're going to be webcasting it to all of our employees. It will be archived for any of them to be able to see that.

And we have a very strong culture at Mayo Clinic in terms of protecting patient privacy, and I think we've done really well with it up to now. I think we'll be looking at what kinds of tools work best. But ... with 56,000 employees, you have to use some electronic tools; it's ... cost-effective. Sitting face-to-face with somebody would probably be best, but ... it's going to be cost-prohibitive. We should use the online tools they are already using. ... You're assuming that for them to be in a space where they could be divulging protected health information, they would have to be online, so therefore they are at least comfortable being online. So they should see this blog where they could go through role plays and case studies and stuff like that.

Monitoring Social Media

ANDERSON: Does Mayo monitor the information that makes its way to social media?

AASE: We have a service called Radian6 that we use for monitoring of mentions of Mayo Clinic. We're looking for search term mentions of Mayo Clinic. ... We do have a strong employee culture, and if somebody is putting something on the web we're going to hear about. ... If somebody is making an inappropriate comment on Facebook, the way we're going to find out is their co-workers who are their friends on Facebook are going to say, "Wow so-and-so did put out something that shouldn't have been there."

So I think it is a combination of the training and education, and then just having a culture of folks who want to keep the best interest of the patient as the primary concern ...

Overcoming Privacy Concerns

ANDERSON: What would you say to folks who are still not jumping on the social media bandwagon at a hospital or clinic because they are afraid about liability or have confidentiality or privacy concerns? How do they get over that hump?

AASE: Well for those who are concerned, this is part of what I had in my presentation today, I would just introduce them to the iPhone and just let them know that whether they allow employees to have access to social media or whether they have their own social media sites, the reality is that a large proportion of their employees already are using social media and increasingly will. So it isn't an optional thing.

Long term, they're not going to be able to avoid it. But I would also say it's not just about minimizing risk; it's about maximizing rewards. These are powerful communication tools that can be used productively. So if you're going to just have all the risks and none of the rewards, that's like the dumbest thing to do. Find ways that you can harness these tools to help improve efficiency and improve collaboration. And then by so doing, you also will be minimizing risk because you'll be getting your people familiar with the tools so that they use them the right way.

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