“Communities are generous”: Enterprise social networking in healthcare


Social networking has a chequered reputation in healthcare circles, but a new breed of secure, highly available and easily managed Enterprise Social Networks is giving clinicians, healthcare organisations and patients a whole new environment in which to communicate, engage and drive outcomes.

The idea of medical professionals using social networks generally causes the hackles of managers in healthcare organisations to instantly rise. The image is one of disaffected employees pouring out their bile on Facebook, or a river of confidential data flowing out onto the open web.

It’s an unfair picture, seen through the lens of a media which fails to see the benefits of social media functionality when implemented in an enterprise environment, applied to the right challenges, and accounting properly for medicine’s rightly regulated environment.

Yammer is an Enterprise Social Network (ESN); bringing employees together using the same sorts of social functions found in the consumer space; but in a fully secure and auditable environment. In healthcare, those groups of people can include clinical staff, consultants and subject specialists, administrators and managers, and – through Yammer’s ‘External Networks’ –  the wider ecosystem of healthcare partners such as charities and teaching institutions.

Yammer is being used to connect communities dealing with specific diseases in a safe and secure way, enabling clinicians to discuss new research with their peers, share best practice on treatments and discussing patients’ feed-back on the service they receive.

Emma Stephen, Customer Success Manager, EMEA, at Yammer, says the addition of a social layer to existing healthcare systems helps surface expertise, so improvements have been seen particularly around speed and responsiveness. “One of the trends that we see across all services businesses – local councils, healthcare, and the private sector – is that when you put control in the hands of the people who actually deliver services to the public on a day to day basis, processes become far more efficient: people work better together, and customers get better service.

“In a large organisation like the NHS, for example, there are constantly issues which crop up, when you just don’t know who to ask for an answer and where to ask. That’s where the quick and efficient communication in a secure Enterprise Social Network – the ability to ask a group of professionals rather than the one-to-one email – really comes into its own.” Sometimes, this can save crucial minutes. Stephen says, “One of our US clients, Montefiore Medical Center, used a Yammer group during Hurricane Sandy to organise employees into supporting each other and getting into work to provide critical care. A time of crisis is exactly when a mobile enabled Enterprise Social Network really delivers – it’s a virtual flag around which everyone can congregate.”

In healthcare, access to expertise at the right time can be crucial. Physicians at Texas Health use their network to search for experts. A physician, for example, needed immediate expertise to deal with a patient with an acute condition requiring urgent care. Reaching out by traditional means of communication to the few people he knew failed to offer an answer, so he jumped on the network and asked there. Within 45 minutes, a series of physicians who knew other physicians had @mentioned (a form of bringing someone into a conversation) others until the right expert was found. Unnecessary complications in patient care were avoided.

A private Enterprise Social Network also provides an open and productive environment for service improvements and valuable feedback. “One UK healthcare organisation uses an ESN to run an initiative to improve their processes,” says Stephen. “When anyone sees a process that isn’t up to acceptable standards, or which hinders them in providing a quality service, they post it in a dedicated Yammer group; which in turn is monitored by managers. It’s direct feedback which those managers otherwise would not get; and they are mandated to implement changes, fast. Once something is posted in the group, the whole process stops until a fix can be found. Everyone can chip in with solutions, and it fosters a culture of openness, responsibility and participation. Nobody’s a whistleblower, everyone can help to solve a problem, and better still, employees can see that they themselves can be responsible for driving real change.”

A culture change – but a continuation of existing technologies

Empowering employees to drive this new social mindset and culture of collaboration can mean they need to adapt their way of working when moving into the open.  The emergence of an ESN as a space where this open, collaborative working can happen is one which managers should embrace: email caused no less consternation 15 years ago, and yet it has now become part of the standard communication toolkit within enterprises, each with their own benefits and purpose.

Stephen advises, “Be really clear about how and when to use ESNs. In highly compliant environments like healthcare, there are things you cannot communicate on your network (for example, confidential patient data). Clarify for everyone what should go where, and apply the same regulatory governance principles as you would for any other medium.”

Similarly, just as there are ideal uses for an ESN, there are other requirements for which social tools are inappropriate. Patient data belongs in custom repositories, documents and policies belong on a traditional intranet; and indeed, Yammer integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft infrastructure which underpins so many of these traditional IT-enabled functions. Yammer is fully mobile-enabled, making instant communication convenient, even when employees are not at their desks or stations. It allows organisations to collaborate with external parties through External Networks; easy to set up and use, because Yammer is intuitive, cloud-based and integrated. These External Networks deepen the relationship with third parties and facilitate a more aligned and productive way of working.

Healthcare professionals still concentrating on the challenges presented by traditional, external social media are almost certainly missing a new opportunity to communicate with immediacy and breadth in an ESN. Starting is easy, says Stephen: “Get inspired. Find a challenge of your own which an ESN can solve. Make a plan – do you simply ask your network or start a group for people with a common need? – and then try it. If the experience adds value to your work and is successful (no matter how small or large), share it with your colleagues – they will have challenges that an ESN can help to solve, too. Successful communities are generous, both with their time and their knowledge.”

In a typical healthcare organisation, whether it’s a Trust or a pharmaceutical business, someone in your network will have just the answers you need and help you get your work done more efficiently which ultimately leads to a better healthcare experience.

Find out more: www.yammer.com

Nick Saalfeld
on behalf of the Microsoft Health Team

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Have a question for the Microsoft in Health Team? Please e-mail us at ukps@microsoft.com.

You can also find great health IT solutions, case studies and other news on our website: www.microsoft.com/uk/health

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