Could Quora Be Good for Your Hospital?

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Quora – a new social media tool that allows members to ask and answer questions.

This month we’re going to take a close look at Quora. What exactly is it? How does it work? Can it help hospitals engage with patients? If so, what might be the best way to use it?

Patients online are generally looking for answers to questions, and Quora is a site to ask and answer questions. You register with a user name and password, complete a biography that highlights your expertise, post a photo, and identify your areas of interest. You can invite friends to join Quora, and follow topics, questions and people.

Once you find a question that interests you, you can read the answers to gather information, and then add your own answers. When there are several answers, you and other readers can vote the answers up.

Quora has a handy get-started guide for new users to remove the mystery and suspense.

Why all the fuss?

There are many websites that provide opportunities to ask and answer questions. Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn Answers and Aardvark are a few. So why is Quora getting all the attention these days?

Quora was co-founded by former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever in June 2009. The site was launched in January 2010 as a private beta where users’ signups were invitation-only. This exclusive launch appealed to influential thought leaders, who began using the site. When the site became available to everyone in June of 2010, it had already established a strong insider reputation.

The site launched with an attractive combination of expertise and exclusivity. That’s the source of the buzz. And so far the site is considered a place where industry experts or professionals can create, edit and organize these questions and answers.

What is the vision?

Those are the facts. But here is the vision: Imagine a site where you could ask any question that comes into your mind, and it would be answered right away by someone with real authority – an expert in the field. And imagine if the answer to your question, and many others, was available to anyone, anywhere?

This is the question for hospitals and healthcare providers. In our search to educate and help our patients, can Quora be an effective tool? And beyond that question, is the possible benefit worth the time, energy and effort that it takes to participate in Quora?

The navigation on Quora is quite intuitive, and the help links are very useful. It doesn’t take long – less than an hour – to set up your account and get the hang of how it works. During your setup you identify topics of interest. When you’re ready to enter a question, you type it into a question in the main “Add Question” box. If you want to search a topic, enter the word followed by a colon.

What kinds of healthcare questions are found on Quora?

Today there are thousands of healthcare questions covering a broad range of topics:

  • Do any vitamins or supplements help to prevent or reduce the risks of cancer? Two answers.
  • What is the relationship between hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and heart disease? One answer.
  • Are there health risks to having an MRI? One answer.
  • What are some good ways to graphically display immunohistochemical staining data scored on a 0/1+/2+/3+ scale? No answers.

Not all questions receive answers right away. I asked the question: What guidelines can help hospitals implement social media without violating HIPAA regulations? Although the question has been viewed 91 times, nine days after posing the question I had received no answers.

What is the benefit?

On a recent post at KevinMD.com, Phil Baumann, RN, identified some reasons for a physician or nurse practitioner to use Quora. Many of these ideas can be adapted for hospitals.

  • Quora gives healthcare professionals a place to help create higher quality content online.

One of the clear ways to distinguish the quality of care at your hospital is to leverage your healthcare experts. Whether it be physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, or department managers, your people know a lot about healthcare. Quora can provide a meeting place to show off that expertise.

  • Quora is a great place to easily find and network with others in an important way – not through traditional “people searches,” but simply by asking and answering questions related to their interest.

For key employees, this can be a way to add important contributions to controversial or misunderstood topics.

  • Quora provides an opportunity to see what patients are asking and what they’re saying about diseases and treatments – and may offer better insight than traditional research.

This site can provide a close-up view at what others are interested in.

But is it right for us?

The first question to ask about any social media tool or platform is whether or not it supports your overall marketing strategy. Of course that differs from hospital to hospital. But if you can’t find a tangible way for Quora to help achieve your marketing goals, you will want to hold off.

If you can see a connection between Quora and your strategic marketing goals, the other critical question involves time and energy. Where are you focusing your social media efforts? Do you have the staff to focus on a new tool? In this regard, you may think about whether there are others in the hospital, outside of your marketing staff, who would be attracted to Quora.

Are there medical professionals who would like to get involved in this platform?

Our forecast

We’re keeping an eye on Quora. There is an appeal – and great value – in taking an expert position on medical topics. But the jury is still out on whether or not it is a powerful tool for engaging patients. Given the time and energy it will require to get seriously involved with this platform, we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.

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