By Jean Kelso Sandlin, Senior Strategist
Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, tackled an issue in his August 29th blog that sometimes gets lost in our high tech world … words matter. He recalled an experience by a friend who went to the Emergency Room and, after tests, the doctor prefaced the diagnosis with, “I hate it when I have to give this kind of news.” The patient felt the physician cared more about how the news impacted the physician than the patient.
The experience Levy reported was face-to-face, but miscommunications and poor word choice can alter our online communication as well. In their book Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julian Smith warn those planning on adopting social media that the Web amplifies the signals we do get. For example, if the word choice of a colleague during a hallway conversation rubs you the wrong way, you may be slightly irritated, shrug it off and be on your way. However, if that same colleague were to post a blog using that same irritating word choice, your level of frustration would likely rise, possibly to the point where you would consider leaving a comment correcting his or her misstep.
For those hospitals considering entering the online world, the biggest fear should not be HIPAA violations or time commitment – the biggest fear should be the speed and ease of which anyone in your organization can post information.
Each hospital is unique, but you may want to consider sharing these helpful “before you post” suggestions:
1) Your audience lives, talk to them first! Use those face-to-face conversations with patients as a starting point for meaningful online conversations.
2) Always consider the reader first – not what you want to tell them, but what they are eager to hear.
3) Be a facilitator, not a dictator. Recognize that even though patients may be experiencing similar symptoms (in this case, the loss of hair), they don’t necessarily want to be treated the same. Consider the cancer patient who found it offensive when the front office offered her the phone number of the wig store? Celebrate the opportunity to have meaningful conversations about varying points-of-view online.
4) Re-read, tomorrow. Try to write a day or two before you post to give you a chance to re-read it with fresh eyes before posting.
5) Have someone else (that you trust will be honest with you) read your post before you post it. If there is an area that you are particularly concerned about, point it out to them and ask for their input.
6) Use clear, simple sentences and jargon-free language. If you must use medical jargon or an unfamiliar term, define it or provide a link to the definition.
7) Be cool. If you are writing in response to situation or post that angered you…give yourself a cooling off period before you press the “publish” button. Ultimately, you may decide not dampen your emotion. Your anger may be warranted and your authentic response may help your readers feel more connected to you. But giving yourself time to cool off will help you more carefully consider the appropriateness of your level of emotion.
8) A quick HIPAA and policy check: Any names or situations mentioned that clearly divulge patient information? Delete it. Did I share any information that conflicts with my hospital’s policy? Delete it.
9) Does it pass the cringe-free, long-haul test? The Internet has a long memory. In traditional media, like newspapers, the lifespan of a story was much shorter. Today, plan on your posts remaining available on the Internet forever. Ask yourself, if someone were to read this article five years from now, will I be proud that I wrote it … or will I cringe? Any cringe-factor deserves an immediate delete.
10) Be willing to apologize. If you do press the publish button … and then wish you could “take it back.” Make sure you do just that. Apologize. People will respect you for it and know that a real human is behind those words. Most people are willing to forgive.