Key opinion leaders influence important decisions in healthcare, but perhaps too little attention has been given to the ethics of this situation.
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece written by a key opinion leader in healthcare information technology (IT). It is not hard news.
Earlier this month, I attended the fifth annual Health IT Marketing and PR Conference, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The gathering came on the heels of the annual HIMSS conference and is referred to by a few attendees as HIMSS’s less stuffy, younger sister. But a funny thing happened while attending the conference this year: I was stopped at least 3 times and was told I was “Twitter famous.”
I was initially put off by the comments, not sure of the implications. But a colleague reminded me, “Influence in this business is gold.” That statement could be very true. During my presentation, the hashtag for my session, “Six (HIT) Chicks,” garnered more than half a million impressions in less than 30 minutes. On the surface, this seems like a good thing, but if everybody’s posting, who’s listening? Our society is so focused on influence; my experience made me wonder, are we getting our thoughts on health IT and innovation heard or are we simply becoming popular?
According to Couch MedComms, healthcare-tech influencers are not only affecting doctors and pharma, they’re also affecting the business side of the industry. By engaging with tech companies, using existing and emerging technologies, and sharing experiences, influencers answer questions many of their followers have. Likewise, their interactions with technologies, the nit and grit of using products, shapes the expectations of their audience. Followers, at least 57% of them, according to Good Influence, purchased something solely on the recommendation of a social media influencer, second only to family and friends’ recommendations (83%). It begs a few questions: Are we using influence to encourage true thought leadership, are we being accountable, and should regulatory restrictions shape social media influence in healthcare?
Thought leaders are usually identified by their unique approaches to the questions their audience has and their expertise in a specific industry. I’d add that thought leaders become influential and are most effective when their passions coincide with the passions of their followers. No place is this truer than in health IT.
Currently, the healthcare industry is struggling to properly leverage and optimize innovation. If the years following the passage of the Affordable Care Act have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need to be first, but we need to be precise. Shiny things and talking points don’t improve outcomes or lower costs. Defining the “job” answers the needs of both patients and clinicians.
For healthcare organizations seeking innovative solutions, what a vendor’s product does matters less than how what the product does solves a problem and does the “job.” This is where true thought leadership has the greatest impact. It’s disruption as intended for our industry. Influencers recognize this theory and leverage it successfully.
Accountability for what is being shared by healthcare IT influencers doesn’t differ greatly from other industries. Health IT influencers have conflicts of interest, which should be disclosed whenever sharing information across platforms.
Also, the responsibility for researching a product’s claims falls to the influencer. Last month, I shared my excitement about a vendor’s claim of an actual blockchain use case, only to test it at HIMSS18 to discover it didn’t indeed exist. Without shaming the vendor, I believed it was my responsibility to share my findings with my followers. To that I say, we learn every day.
HealthIT influencers should also share any sponsored posts or promotional considerations. Responsible sharing builds influence.
Influence and thought leadership are not likely to disappear. Given that what influencers share shapes how the industry delivers care and how patients respond to innovation, it would stand to reason that regulation will soon follow. This would be a mistake, in my opinion. Regulation rarely keeps up with innovation, and any attempt to control what’s being shared could cause more harm to an industry already faltering in its recognition of patients and clinicians as beacons of value-based care.
Healthcare in the US is a business model first. To that end, thought leadership is also an important part of any health IT content marketing strategy. Influencers provide valuable insights, but those ideas need to be tempered with what will work not only for business but also for patients and clinicians. Objectivity about the job is just as important as the job itself. Choosing to share brings with it a responsibility to not let brand or vendor interest jeopardize the integrity and efficacy of our words. When it comes to thoughts that influence, no matter where you go, they are yours, forever. Sharing responsibly is the job.
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