The January 2011 Issue

Social Media Medicine

By Claudia Volkman

Social media has had a huge impact on all industries, and hospitals are no exception.  Despite concerns about patient privacy, medical facilities and call centers are providing “social medicine” to more and more individuals as time goes on.

Why would busy doctors, hospital staff (including medical call center agents) want to take the time to explore social media?  Because they recognize that their patients are already seeking health information and answers online, and they want to be able to harness the power of social media tools to more effectively do their jobs and reach this growing audience.  Through blogs, Twitter, and even Facebook, medical professionals can communicate directly with patients and can also share information more rapidly within the medical community.

Nine out of ten hospitals or health systems are currently involved in social media to some degree, but only one in three currently has a formal social media plan in place, according to new research released by  The research was conducted over a two-month period using’s research panel of over 100 hospital and health system marketers.

“It is impossible to ignore the effect that social media is having on the Internet in general, and on hospitals and health systems specifically,” said Mike Schneider, executive VP of  “Organizations that have a formal plan to manage their social media interactions are more likely to be successful, and we expect more and more hospital Web departments to embrace this strategy moving forward.”  To request a copy of the research results or to join the Greystone.Net research panel, you can email

The Mayo Clinic paved the way for healthcare providers to adopt social media as a valued tool with the creation of its Center for Social Media, which began with podcasting in 2005.  This initiative takes social media to doctors, patients, and even other hospitals, educating them on how doctors and patients can communicate via the various social media tools.  Mayo Clinic has a very popular channel on YouTube, as well as more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and an active Facebook page with over 30,000 connections.  Through their various blogs, which allow patients and employees to tell their Mayo Clinic stories, Mayo is also a pioneer in hospital blogging., Mayo’s consumer health information site, also hosts a dozen blogs on a variety of topics ranging from Alzheimer’s to the Mayo Clinic Diet.  As Lee Aase, Mayo’s top social media guru, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “The real focus is looking for ways to increase the use of social media throughout the practice at Mayo – to provide in-depth information for patients in a much more comprehensive way, and to create connections between researchers, physicians, and staff.”

The Mayo Clinic has also used social media tools for internal communications since 2008, which began with a blog to promote employee feedback to the organization’s strategic plan.  The resulting high degree of employee engagement is one of the reasons the Mayo Clinic has been recognized among Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work.”

Hospitals are now hiring social media managers, a position which has opened up endless possibilities, from promoting fundraising events to a captive audience of followers to creating a forum for patients to share their stories or offer their opinions as part of focus group.  With careful thought and monitoring, social media holds much value for the healthcare industry.


WRB Communications Celebrates Its Fifteenth Year

WRB Communications, Inc., a medical communications contact center services company, celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on January 16, highlighting the evolution of a company that continues to grow every day.

“Our anniversary is a testament to our staff’s dedication to quality and service,” said Sylvia Williams, cofounder and president of WRB.  “Our medical and customer care professionals are the best in the business.  I am pleased to say that we have partnered with many pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device clients since we started.  And we’re looking forward to the next fifteen years and beyond.”

WRB focuses on the foundation it has built, providing quality medical information call center services for pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device, and generic manufacturers.  Williams added, “We are constantly staying in step with current technologies and helping people with the one of the most important parts of life: their health.”

Denise Dixon, WRB vice president, credits WRB’s ability to stay competitive in the call center industry with what’s at their heart: quality, compliance, experience, and reliability.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the past fifteen years is the demand for quality customer care service.  “WRB’s outstanding customer support remains a primary competitive distinction,” said Dixon.


EHR Spending to Hit $3.8 Billion in 2015

By Nicole Lewis, InformationWeek

An IDC Health Insights study predicts there will be double-digit growth in spending on ambulatory and inpatient electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) software between 2009 and 2015.

The report, U.S. Electronic Health and Medical Records 2009-2015 – Meaningful Use Spending Forecast and Analysis, published in December 2010, looks at the critical years during which the federal government’s incentive programs for the adoption of meaningful use of EMR/EHRs will be implemented.  Among the key findings are:

  • Total EMR/EHR software spending by all types of providers was approximately $2 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.8 billion in 2015.  The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to be 11.5 percent.
  • Ambulatory EMR/EHR software spending by all types of providers was $633.5 million in 2009 and is expected to grow to $1.4 billion in 2015, with a CAGR of 14.2 percent.
  • Inpatient EMR/EHR software spending by all types of providers was approximately $1.3 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow to $2.4 billion in 2015, with a CAGR of 10 percent.

The report added that the promise of incentive payments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and the announcement of the final rule for the stage 1 meaningful use criteria have accelerated critical investments in healthcare IT.

Provided by Information Week


January 2011 Is National Radon Month

The World Health Organization has released their mortality statistics for 2010, and a startling statistic about in-home causes of death surfaced.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon gas causes over 20,000 deaths annually in the United States.  To put that into perspective, radon caused more deaths in 2010 than drunk driving, fires, and carbon monoxide.

The EPA is creating awareness of this silent killer by declaring January National Radon Awareness Month.  Radon problems have been detected in almost every county in the United States.  The surgeon general and the American Lung Association have also taken action to help prevent these needless deaths by recommending that all homes in the U.S. be tested for radon, regardless of geographic location or foundation type.


Painkillers Fuel Growth in Drug Addiction

Prescription painkillers kill about twice as many people as cocaine and five times as many people as heroin.  Nearly two million Americans are dependent on or abusing narcotic (opioid) pain relievers, nearly twice as many as those addicted to cocaine.  Because opioid painkillers target the same brain receptors as heroin, causing euphoria, they carry the risk of addiction.

On television shows, drug addicts are often depicted as criminal characters making deals on dark street corners.  In fact, people abusing opioid painkillers are more likely to obtain them from friends and family members rather than any other source, reports the January 2011 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, explains that treatment for a painkiller addiction is most successful when it consists of two phases: detoxification to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms after opioid use stops, followed by a longer (and sometimes indefinite) maintenance phase.  Counseling is an important part of treatment, but most people addicted to painkillers also require treatment medication such as methadone or buprenorphine during both detoxification and maintenance therapy.  Although most people addicted to opioids make multiple attempts to kick the habit, it can be done.


Healthcare Professionals Tap Social Media for Job Search

Healthcare job seekers are using social media for more than just social purposes.  Physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and pharmacists are accessing their computers and mobile phones to network with professional colleagues, track down job leads, and apply for new positions.

The 2010 Social Media Survey of Healthcare Professionals from AMN Healthcare, a healthcare staffing and workforce solutions company, suggests that while traditional methods of recruitment such as referrals, online job boards, and search engines are not being superseded by social media, social media does surpass other job search methods such as newspaper ads and career fairs.  At the same time, social networking sites are experiencing tremendous growth and have become the new frontier in professional networking and career development for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and pharmacists.

Key findings include:

  • 38 percent of clinicians are currently seeking employment; 12 percent have been looking for more than a year.
  • Nurses have had a significantly shorter job search, averaging three months, compared to seven months for physicians and allied professionals and nine months for pharmacists.
  • 37 percent of clinicians use social media for professional networking; nurses had the highest use among healthcare workers at 41 percent.
  • 10 percent of healthcare professionals are using mobile job alerts, but only 3 percent have received an interview, 2 percent have received a job offer, and 1 percent have secured a new job.


Know About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning each year, especially during the winter months when people begin using heating devices and stoves to keep warm.  “This colorless, odorless gas is deadly if you don’t take precautionary steps or notice the symptoms,” said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.  Each year, more than 400 people in the United States die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the CDC.  Another 20,000 people visit emergency departments, with more than 4,000 needing to be hospitalized.

Emergency physicians urge everyone to spot the potential signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.  Carbon monoxide poisoning often is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.

“If you get bad headaches or suffer from any of these symptoms, you may easily confuse them with the flu,” said Dr. Schneider.  “People should be concerned about the possible presence of carbon monoxide if more than one person living or working together develops these symptoms simultaneously over a short period of time.”

Also, people who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms or knowing they are experiencing them.


Health Reform Prompts Employers to Get Creative with Wellness

The debate on healthcare has raised plenty of controversy and confusion – but one thing that people agree on is the need for a renewed focus on wellness and prevention at the workplace, in schools, and at home.  Although wellness didn’t get nearly as much media coverage as other aspects of healthcare reform, the bill does include grants for small businesses to implement wellness programs, requires qualified health plans to cover the cost of certain preventive care services, and allows employers to increase incentives for participation in wellness programs to 30 percent of the cost of coverage, up from 20 percent.

These latest incentives in healthcare reform are prompting more and more employers to start or expand wellness programs.  In fact, a recent survey of 282 employers by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) found that 72 percent were enhancing on-site programs aimed at stress management, EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), or health coaching – or plan to do so in the next twelve months.