I happened to recently come across two Boston.com articles about two specific examples of social media shaking up the healthcare industry. I’m not sure how long these will be available without registering for the site, so I’ll quote some key bits.
The first article is called Blog tests hospital leaders’ patience.
In August, [Paul] Levy, chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, began writing an Internet blog called Running a Hospital, about the inner workings of an academic medical center. Since then, he’s broken a few unwritten rules.
Here’s a specific example of a rule he is breaking:
In a recent entry on his website and two previous ones, Levy, saying patients have a right to know, posted the percentage of Beth Israel Deaconess patients who get infections each month from intravenous tubing inserted by staff, known as central line infections, which can cause serious harm and even death. (The hospital’s rate has fluctuated, but five or six patients got infections in August, while none did in January, he said.)
He challenged other hospitals to publicize their infection rates, a step that is also being pushed nationally by patient advocates, including Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. The Globe asked several other Boston teaching hospitals if they would release their monthly central line infection rates, which they have collected internally for years. They all said no, at least for now, but added they expect to in the near future.
The closing bit is priceless.
In his blog, Levy also has needled Partners HealthCare, the parent organization of Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s, about their formidable market share of patients, saying they get paid more from insurers because of their size.
Partners executives declined to comment. “What’s a blog?” said chief operating officer Thomas Glynn when asked about Levy’s blog.
Spokeswoman Petra Langer said that overall, people at Partners are not a blogging group. “They’re too busy,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Still, Glynn said, printouts of certain entries occasionally get passed around the executive offices
In an e-mail to the Globe, Levy wrote, “If they don’t like what I say or how I say it, they should post comments in rebuttal.”
Levy’s blog is called Running a Hospital.
The second article is from October. It is about a Cambridge, MA based company called Sermo. Sermo is a social networking site for physicians. Sermo’s goal is for physicians to share upcoming trends and potential alarms they see during their day. The users then rate the information in a Digg-style format so that the most important content rises to the top. The Boston.com article is called Website seeks doctors’ take on drugs, and firms are crying foul.
How is Sermo being a pain in the corporate ass?
With its debut two weeks ago, the Sermo site generated debate by prominently featuring postings from several doctors saying that Pfizer Inc.’s cholesterol-fighter Lipitor induces vivid and repeated nightmares in some patients as well as a posting by one doctor that said the diabetes drug Byetta, marketed jointly by Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Co., was associated with “sudden death” in 50 patients.
There has been almost nothing published about either problem in medical literature. Both drug companies, which reviewed the website after questions from the Globe, said the physicians’ anecdotal observations appeared to be inaccurate.
Pfizer said no scientific studies or clinical trials have shown any link between Lipitor, the world’s biggest-selling prescription drug, and nightmares. “It’s not true. This is such a strange situation with this website,” said Dr. Gregg Larson , Pfizer’s vice president for cardiovascular drugs. “It’s not scientifically based. It’s not clinically based.”
Responding to complaints from Pfizer and Lilly, Palestrant, the founder, said the site is intended to generate debate within the medical community. He said it acts as a preliminary sounding board for investment firms that subscribe to the site.
For instance, he said, the physician who anonymously posted the observation that Byetta was responsible for 50 sudden deaths did not receive any supporting comments from other physicians. The inference, he said, was that the posting was of low value. It nonetheless remained on the site, as do all postings. Regarding Lipitor, Palestrant said the physician reports of a nightmare link suggest it deserves further study.
These two sites just drill home the point that you might as well join the conversation, because they’re going to be talking about you anyway.