Social media can boost physician engagement, ease change

Luis Saldana remembers a time in the not-too-distant past when competing hospitals operated more or less in isolation. You work on your ways to improve patient care and business models, we’ll work on ours.

“Thankfully, times have changed,” said Saldana, a practicing emergency physician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and the medical director for clinical decision support for Texas Health Resources’ system-wide EHR. “We all benefit from collaboration. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. You can rely on other folks to help you and benefit from that.”

Looking out at the packed conference room at HIMSS13 in New Orleans was a pleasant reminder of just how much times have changed. Saldana and Ferdinand Velasco, MD, Texas Health’s vice president and chief medical information officer, were front and center to present their seminar, “Innovative Approaches to Physician Engagement and Team Collaboration.”

The talk focused on Texas Health’s experiences in finding ways to improve processes in their network of 25 hospitals in northern Texas that employs 22,000, including 5,500 physicians and 7,500 registered nurses.

The audience seemed most interested in their points on developing an enterprise social network among physicians, Saldana said. That interest, he said, speaks to traditional challenges that organizations have in effectively providing technical support to physicians. 

“Physicians aren’t technologists, their focus is on patient care,” Saldana said. “Technologists tend to focus on whether a certain technology is working, whether it is achieving the desired end result.

“The technology might be working fine, but the physicians might not see the benefit of using it. That’s where there’s been a disconnect.”

In this case, Texas Health needed to determine how to best support physicians in their navigation of the network’s EHR, which was being implemented in 16 sites. Whereas once email, phone, live chat, or in-person support with a technician might have done the trick, Texas Health looked ahead.

“We have to build to where things are going, not to where they are today,” Saldana said. “A social network for physicians is just another tool in your tool belt.”

Simply put, physicians tend to prefer interacting with other physicians. To foster discussion, Texas Health introduced the social network program Yammer, which offers communication methods similar to those found on Facebook and Linked-In. The program allowed physicians from across the network to communicate with each other. Together, they worked through challenges of understanding and expanding their use of the EHR.

“The network helps them to understand how their colleagues are using the system and they learn from each other,” Saldana said. “We’re seeing some great interactions. Two doctors might be discussing how to do something, and a third will pitch in, ‘Here’s how I do it.’

“They’re all in same boat now. Ultimately, we’re going to get the value that they bring to discussions because they can spread their knowledge and connect with each other.”

Similarly, Saldana said he has met with about a dozen organizations since HIMSS13, sharing Texas Health’s story about engaging physicians and managing change.

“It’s a journey, you don’t get there overnight,” Saldana said. “You need to learn from what worked, what didn’t, and build on that. With social media, there was no guarantee it was going to work, and we knew it would not work for everyone. But it delivers value for some. You always keep moving forward, learn from your mistakes and get better.”