Blog Post

The Changing “Face” of Health Care Communications – Part 1

October 10, 2014
SE2 friend and project partner Bill Sonn recently moved on from his role as senior director of Marketing, Communications & Public Relations with University of Colorado Health after eight years.
Like Bill, SE2 has a long track record of helping a variety of health care organizations – hospitals, professional associations, providers and insurers – move the meter on issues that matter. Those issues vary greatly depending on the challenges each client is facing at the moment with internal or external stakeholders.
This post is the first in a three-part series in which I interviewed Bill about the future of health care communications.
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JH: Recently, Facebook made a significant announcement saying it will venture into health care by creating “online ‘support communities’ that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments” and building preventative care apps that focus on influencing lifestyles. In what ways do you think Facebook’s health care project could support what health care systems are already doing to communicate with patients?
BS: Facebook may be late to the provider-to-patient arena, and its efforts to get patients to talk to each other face some difficult challenges. There already are many useful health-tracker apps and technologies out there for provider/patient communication. All aim to change the way patients and providers get together. There are also many other channels to connect people to preventive behaviors. Changing behavior, though, seems to require a lot more than interactive digital communication.
JH: Could Facebook’s plans undermine patient communication strategies or tools in which health care systems have already invested?
BS: There’s not much to undermine. Few health systems have successfully gotten beyond using social communities for more than posting FAQs, announcements and links to ads or talking-head videos. In the end, that type of content may be all the “communities” are good for.
Offering patient support through social media is also kind of a stretch. The really helpful patient support – the kind that goes beyond providing them with basic tips and gets to the unguarded social support they need when facing a critical illness – remains in steadfastly non-virtual settings, where people physically gather within sight of each other, helping each other.
There are good reasons for this face-to-face approach. It’s a more effective way to fill profoundly personal, intimate needs. And there are significant legal and moral concerns in putting these out there on social media channels.
JH: You bring up a relevant point because a slew of recent media reports have questioned Facebook’s privacy policy. What do you think about Facebook’s recent announcement and the implications for patient privacy?
BS: Providing any kind of clinical and most kinds of social support in a virtual (or hack-able) environment immediately risks a patient’s privacy. Health care professionals are sworn to respect patients’ privacy for very good, obvious reasons, and patients should be, too.
Trusting Facebook – or any corporation – to keep even our public secrets secret forever feels risky, too. After all, we’re told Facebook, Apple and Google – like J.P Morgan Chase, Target, Home Depot and the Iranian nuclear development program before them – have air-tight security measures in place, so our privacy concerns may be overblown.
Interested in the future of health care communications? Don’t miss part 2 of this series “Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems” and the final installment “Pitfalls of Channel Obsession.”

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