Running A Hospital, Social Media Style 14

Paul Levy is the CEO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, but that is probably not why you recognize his name.

In addition to his post as Chief Executive Officer of a major teaching hospital in a world renowned medical hub, he is also the founder and author of a health care blog called Running a Hospital and is an active Twitter user from the handle @PaulFLevy.

We met with Paul yesterday afternoon to hear about his social media success and naturally, to pick his brain.

Paul began his talk by saying, “All communications from a company should reflect that company’s values.” Agree.

He went on to say that, “At our place, the mission is to treat our patients the way we would want a member of our own family treated.” Agree again. As a side note, Paul continually referred to BIDMC as “our place,” giving a sincere sense of responsibility, community and family to the place he drives into each morning for work.

Given his position on corporate communication, and his company’s mission, in 2006 he decided he’d like to start a blog; a blog that reflected the company’s values and furthered their mission. Thus, Running a Hospital was born.

One of the first blog posts Paul published that caused quite a stir, publically disclosed central line infection rates at the hospital. The hospital staff had set a goal to lower infection rates, and Paul wanted to share their progress. He didn’t ask permission, he just posted it. Does that make you nervous?

The response did something miraculous. Knowing that their success was being publically documented, the medical staff felt an additional resurgence and enthusiasm for meeting their goal. Paul said, “That was the moment I like to say I invented transparency as a management tool.”

Not only did he see the blog as opportunity to motivate and reward his staff, but he had another idea. What if all the other areas hospital also posted their infection rates? Let’s just say, the response was not positive. I believe the word Paul used was “hostile.” No surprise here, as the BIDMC team committed to reducing their rates and sharing their progress, other hospitals felt threatened and exposed. Hello, competitive edge.

While they may have started to position themselves uniquely from the other local hospitals by sharing information on the blog, did it impact their business and revenue?

You bet it did. The Vanguard health system began to send its patients to the BIDMC emergency room instead of a competitor they had long been referring their patients to. This referral shift caused a 10% increase in patient volume. Not too shabby.

While the medical community is clearly paying attention to the blog (it is currently ranked #11 on the blog list), is anyone else?

You bet. When speaking to reporters at the Boston Globe, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Paul will frequently begin to tell a story and the reporter will interrupt and say, “I know, I read it on your blog.”

When I asked why he chose to communicate through a blog, Paul asks, “Why wouldn’t I use a tool like this? I can share my point of view with a much larger audience than I ever could via a medium like say, the telephone.” He also goes on to say, “A blog is a lower risk method of communication. There is no risk of being misquoted.” If you are wondering if he really writes each post himself, he says, “I assure you my media team does not write these posts, in fact, I get in trouble for scooping reporters on stories without knowing it! I get the idea to write about something, and I do.”

When asked how patients have responded to the blog, Paul shares that, “Patients seem to enjoy the blog. Several of them have sent me their personal stories and when I ask permission to share the stories via the blog they always say yes. Then they forward it to everyone they know.” I think we’ve all been guilty of that type of family email!

Paul’s social media reach extends far beyond the blog. He is an active Twitter user with over 2,900 followers. He only follows 170 people which he explains are, “people I trust and who I am interested in. Their tweets have become my news stream. Twitter has become my librarian.”

Paul is also an active user of Facebook. In fact, during his talk he encouraged everyone in the room to “friend” him. He shared that he receives comments and messages from employees and friends in their twenties who he would otherwise never hear from via corporate email. He is on Facebook to reach people where they are, via the mode of communication they identify with.

Paul has also worked with his team on pages on the social networking site Grateful Nation. They have an employee challenge to see who can raise the most funds for relief efforts in Haiti. They also have a team running the Boston Marathon and that team has put their fundraising pages on Grateful Nation.

Paul Levy is a man who rather than fear the uncontrollable nature of social media has decided to dive in, learn, create, and share via the myriad of available social media tools and networks.

He has inspired his staff both inside and outside the workplace, he has challenged his competitors, and he has positively impacted his business’ bottom line. Now that’s called running a hospital.

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