What My 83-Year-Old Dad Taught Me About Social Media


flickr: gwire

Last month (like this month) there was a snowstorm in Chicago. My 83-year-old dad, who had been having heart trouble, needed to be rushed to the hospital. When the ambulance came, my dad requested they take him to the hospital 40 minutes from his home. The ambulance drivers refused, and took him to the hospital 15 minutes from his house.

Later that month, my dad had yet another heart emergency. This time, he didn’t call the ambulance at all…but asked a neighbor to take him to the hospital 40 minutes from his house.

Why, in a life-threatening situation, would you drive an extra 25 minutes to the hospital further from your home? That’s what I asked my dad (chided might be a better word here). Both hospitals are modern with recent updates, both have the latest in cardiac monitoring equipment, both have good doctors.

But, as my dad tells it, the only time he ever saw a nurse at the first hospital was when a monitor indicated he needed assistance. No one stopped by and asked him if he needed more water or if he could reach the phone. The technology was very efficient in monitoring his heart, but no one on staff seemed to care about his human condition. Yes, he had a “call nurse” button, but he hesitated to use it because he figured they must be busy with more serious patients.

What my dad described was a problem we often see in social media: automation vs. authenticity. There are many timesaving automated systems you can use with social media. You can schedule programs to send out a tweet for you, even if you’re busy doing something else. You can set programs to monitor your blog comments or Twitter mentions. You can send blast emails.  You can hire a service to provide  health expertise for your patients instead of using your own physician experts.

I admit many of these tools are useful in managing the overwhelming volume of social media traffic and providing health-related content…but don’t forget to peek your head in the door often and connect with the patient.

Whether it’s colleagues sharing new ideas or patients seeking information, a “you’ve-got-my-attention-because-you’re-worth-it” personalized blog comment, email or direct tweet response can go a long way in assuring your social media contacts that the machines (albeit helpful) are not in charge.

P.S. Glad to report my dad has a new pacemaker and is doing great!

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  1. […] What my 83-year-old dad taught me about social media, by Jean Sandlin. A compelling story of why her father had a neighbor drive him 45 minutes to a distant hospital rather than take an ambulance to the hospital nearby – and what social media can do about it. […]

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