Social Media and Canadian eHealth Organizations – A Rant

I recently attended an event at which a senior eHealth leader and decision maker suggested that “people aren’t interested in what I had for breakfast” when asked about his organization’s plans for social media.  He then went on to explain why social media wasn’t an appropriate vehicle for communicating updates on what is happening within his organization.

I was annoyed at this person’s flippant response that perpetuates a common misconception about Twitter and feel that I needed to respond.  I have opted not identify this person because (a) I hold him in high regard and see no need to embarrass him to make a point and (b) the sentiment that he has expressed has been espoused by other senior eHealth leaders and decision makers.

I am not surprised by the general reaction to social media among many eHealth leaders and decision makers. I saw similar reactions to e-mail and the web in the 1990’s when the Internet started to hit the mainstream.  Social media is still, in many ways, a new technology that many people don’t understand how to use to their advantage and therefore find it easy to poke fun at.

Social media encompasses a wide range of technologies including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and YouTube to name just a few.  I have found each of them to be indispensable in my day to day work.  I am constantly amazed at  the new and innovative ways that organizations both public and private are using social media as a tool to meet business objectives.

I have heard many people complain recently that we as a community are not doing a good job at informing each other and the  public about the many effective uses of health IT across Canada.  Many of these projects are small, local initiatives funded not through federal or provincial programs but from existing organizational budgets.   I have also heard the same eHealth leaders and decision makers who are wary of social media talk about these projects in one-on-one discussions or public presentations.  Imagine if they each started a blog and, on a regular basis, shared their discoveries with a larger audience?   I contend that having such influential and high profile people blogging about the effective uses of IT that they personally witness would do more to raise the profile of these projects than just about any other public awareness campaign.

One my favourite bloggers is Dr. John Halamka, Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chief Information Officer at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), Chair of the US Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP)/Co-Chair of the HIT Standards Committee, and a practicing Emergency Physician.  Dr. Halamka’s “Life as a Healthcare CIO” blog not only offers interesting insights into the many ways in which HIT is shaping the delivery of healthcare but also offers glimpses into Dr. Halamka’s personal interests and philosophies.   I enjoy the opportunity to get to know Dr. Halamka as person as well as a CIO.

What are your thoughts on the use of social media by Canadian eHealth organizations?  Do you think that agencies like eHealth Ontario or Canada Health Infoway could benefit from more aggressive use of social media?


PS – Since publishing this blog post, I came across yet another fan of John Halamka’s blog. Check out this article in Health Data Management.

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