by Jon Mertz, Member, HIMSS Social Media Task Force
Healthcare is experiencing many changes, and this is an understatement. With HITECH, Meaningful Use, health insurance exchanges, websites to research health issues, and much more, a new world of health information is available in electronic formats. New information is available to be sent, received, consumed, and used as caregivers gain a more complete, current view on the patients they serve and patients gain more insights on the health issues impacting them.
Yes, this is a new, new world of patient care. Within this data-driven, electronic world, a new sense of security, privacy, and transparency becomes evident. Each of the three are critical, but transparency rises in importance on at least two fronts – Brand Reputation and Patient Trust.
A brand is inherited by many. A hospital has a brand, as does an individual physician or a clinic. Branding means, simply, people have identified you in a certain way. This identification is based on their interactions as well as understanding what an entity or individual promotes and promises.
The promise is essential. A website can promise the best information possible and a hospital can promise a safe, high quality patient care experience. The brand promise sets the expectations of how an entity or individual interacts within a larger community. Whatever the promise, it needs to be delivered consistently. If it fails, then trust is betrayed and a rebuilding process begins.
Just recently, Healthcare IT News published a story on the “Top Hospitals Named for Transparency.” These hospitals were recognized for their public reporting of quality and safety along with their website transparency. With this recognition, added responsibility goes with it to be diligent in these practices, and other hospitals should be challenged to rise up to the same standards.
The points are straightforward.
- Care providers need to define their brand and then put practices in place to consistently deliver to the defined promise.
- Successes and missteps must be communicated openly. In today’s social world, inconsistencies are more quickly found out and the speed of spreading the word is accelerated, especially when a “cover up” or misrepresentation is suspected.
- Transparency is a key ingredient to keeping a robust brand. Transparency is communication: communicating on quality of care and communicating on improvements being made.
Keeping a solid brand in healthcare requires trust. Trust is important no matter the industry. However, in healthcare, trust is more personal. When it comes to patient care, much private, personal information is given by individuals and also received through physician engagement and various clinical tests. Patient information needs to be safeguarded, just as a patient intends it to be.
Recently, The University of Texas at Austin Health Information Technology Program, Jericho Systems Corporation, and Conemaugh Health System undertook a pilot to test if protected health information (PHI) can adhere to consent directives. The good news is they proved the integrity of a patient’s consent directive through the health information exchange. With this test, greater confidence in patient data security and privacy is gained. The work doesn’t stop here, as there are many practices necessary to support patient privacy and security as networks expand and exchanges broaden.
Equally important are practices to support data transparency in healthcare. Transparency should mean that patients know what data is being collected and who their data is being shared with.
In October 2013, Journal of the American Medical Association published a study on the lack of transparency. JAMA published a report in which 13 websites had questionable tracking practices. Information gathered from their visitors was being “given” to third parties.
There are at least two angles to this practice. First, did the websites in question clearly tell visitors that their information was being tracked and given to third parties? Second, if the websites were not transparent, what does this say about their brand reputation?
Patient trust is lost when transparency fails. Brands should embrace transparency as a way to conduct business. People usually research health diseases and conditions for a reason. When this information is being tracked and then shared with third parties without their knowledge, a relationship is damaged. The organization supporting these practices either has a negative brand to begin with or intends to damage a decent brand they spent years building.
Trust builds brands, and distrust destroys brands. Patients are in the middle of healthcare, and organizations interacting with patients need to act in trustworthy and transparent ways. This is Branding 101.
The points are straightforward here, too.
- Trustworthy brands in healthcare embrace transparency. Open communication about what information is being collected and shared rises to the same standard of protecting the privacy of designated PHI.
- Brands build relationships, and relationships are built on trust. Transparency builds trust, as does consistently delivering on your promises made.
We have, finally, entered a more electronic world of healthcare. There are many positive elements to a connected, wired healthcare system – higher quality, more efficient care, all centered on patients. This new electronic world requires privacy and security and it raises the requirement of transparency.
Care providers need to understand the promises they intend to keep. To build and preserve a valued brand, transparency is required, ensuring your brand is one patients can always trust. Embrace transparency, just as you embrace privacy and security.
Jon Mertz is Vice President of Marketing, Corepoint Health. Follow Jon on Twitter@jonmertz