More Hospitals Use Social Media to Gather Feedback from Patients’ Families; With Some Medicare Payments Based on Patient Satisfaction, More Hospitals Are Relying on Parents as Virtual Advisers

August 19, 2013, 6:57 p.m. ET

More Hospitals Use Social Media to Gather Feedback from Patients’ Families

With Some Medicare Payments Based on Patient Satisfaction, More Hospitals Are Relying on Parents as Virtual Advisers

LAURA LANDRO

Hospitals are turning to social media to engage patients and improve the patient experience, which is by its nature often frightening and unpleasant. WSJ’s Laura Landro and virtual advisor Jim Burrows join Lunch Break with details. Photo: Getty Images.

When staffers at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., want to simplify appointment scheduling, make surgery smoother for kids or even work on doctors’ bedside manner, they turn to a special group of experts, a “virtual advisory council” made up of parents on a private social network.Hospitals are turning to FacebookFB +1.97% Twitter and other forms of social media to recruit patients and their families as advisers. They are asking parents for input, via questionnaires and surveys, on improvements in care, new services and even new facility names. At the University of Michigan Health System, these “e-advisors” answer about 35 online surveys a year, and a teen council responds to questions via its own Facebook page. In Boston, advisers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital help edit patient brochures to make sure they don’t use too much medical jargon.

The efforts are part of a larger movement to engage patients and families in care and enhance the hospital experience. The federal Medicare program is basing some hospital payments on patient satisfaction surveys, including questions about how responsive a hospital is to concerns. Similar surveys are being developed for pediatric hospitals.

With social media, a hospital can cast a wider net for more feedback than it can expect from a traditional patient and family council composed of a small group of appointees who meet once a month or so.

“The avenues through which patient voices can be captured and heard are expanding in rapid and creative ways,” says Jason Wolf, president of the Beryl Institute, a membership organization providing grants and resources to help hospitals improve patient satisfaction. Virtual advisers, electronic surveys and social media “provide great reach, more rapid feedback and a process for engagement that can have significant impact on efforts to improve the patient experience,” he says.

At Nemours, a dozen family advisory groups, many dedicated to specific diseases or conditions, meet in person. James Burrows became a member several years ago after his daughter Amanda was born with heart problems that would eventually require six open-heart surgeries. He left a job in financial services to become director of service excellence at Nemours last November, and started the virtual advisory council in April.

Tell Us How We’re Doing

Two University of Michigan hospitals use e-survey responses to train staff and doctors-in-training about how to communicate with families in crisis. A sample question and some answers:

Please list two positive things that care providers can do to help families cope when they have a child in intensive care.

‘Explain, explain, explain…they need to understand that most families are not in the health field and do not understand a lot of the things going on in the ICU.’

‘As a mom, you feel so helpless that you can’t care for your child and someone else is doing everything. So when you ask us to change a diaper or help bathe, do hair, reposition, etc…it means a lot!

‘Know the family story and be honest with results, prognosis in a timely fashion.’

‘Active listening, not actively talking over and around parent questions.

‘Trying to coordinate information…If my husband had to answer the same questions once more, I was afraid of his making a scene.

Source: The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital

Mr. Burrows says it’s hard for parents who work and who live far away to attend meetings or make presentations to hospital staffers in person. “We had to figure out a way to get rid of those barriers so parents could have input on their own terms, no matter where or what time,” he says.

Nemours uses the Yammer social enterprise network for the council. It recruits participants using a Facebook page, digital hospital signs and contact information on business cards. The hospital doesn’t moderate or delete comments unless they are personal attacks, off-topic or otherwise inappropriate. It suggests that parents with privacy concerns should avoid posting detailed medical information because comments are published for all participants to see.

Shannon Pencek’s son Connor, 7, was born with a syndrome affecting development of bones and tissues of the face. He has been coming to Nemours since birth for surgeries and therapies, to help with breathing and feeding when he was an infant and later with hearing and speech difficulties. Ms. Pencek, with a full-time job as a benefits specialist and a home 45 minutes away, says she has little time left after Connor’s medical appointments. “It wasn’t feasible for me to come in person for an advisory council but I really wanted to participate,” she says. “In some ways this is like our second home, and for them to ask for our opinions builds that connection even more.”

During breaks at work, she responds to surveys such as one on “complex scheduling,” which the hospital is using to help parents schedule multiple appointments in a single visit. With many specialists’ office hours on different days, Connor often has to be pulled out of school. “There are times that we are at the hospital once a week because we weren’t able to coordinate appointments,” Ms. Pencek responded.

On another recent questionnaire, she weighed in on whether parents would prefer to get appointment confirmations by text message. The parents said yes, and the hospital has now adopted the practice.

Advisory councils throughout the University of Michigan system meet in person, but an online survey site can reach a broader group, including families who live hours away, says Kelly Parent, patient and family-centered care program manager for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. She also is a former family adviser whose daughter was treated successfully for brain cancer there starting in 2003.

“We make it clear that this isn’t just a laundry list of complaints, and we are looking for solutions,” Ms. Parent says. “We ask questions ranging from happy and fluffy, like how do you like the food on your tray, to serious things like coping with death and bereavement.”

Ms. Parent asked two family advisers to help design an e-survey for parents whose children died at the hospital, including Shannan Shaw, whose daughter Madeline passed away five years ago at age 4 after more than a year in the hospital awaiting a heart transplant. “Even with all the illness, her hospital family made her life wonderful in so many ways,” Ms. Shaw says. The aim of the survey was “to find out even in horrible circumstances, what more could the hospital do to help?”

Based on the responses, one idea being developed is a checklist of ways to console families, such as offering a handprint, lock of hair or photo of their child as a memento.

Laura Hurst, whose premature twins spent a couple of months in the neonatal intensive care unit in 2009, worked with Ms. Shaw on the bereavement survey. She herself answers e-questionnaires once or twice a month.

“Having a sick kid can be a really difficult thing to talk about, and being an e-advisor is a safe way to start,” Ms. Hurst says. “Part of it is being able to give the hospital good information, but it is also a way to use what we went through to make it easier for the next family.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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