Technology is transforming health care in many ways. CEOs of health care businesses think the biggest transformation in the next few years will come from making patients, doctors and health-care workers more communicative and collaborative.

They foresee patients with the same rare diseases coming together in online social networks where they can discuss their symptoms. They see overweight consumers building mutual support networks to share diets and praise exercise. They anticipate that knowledge will be shared so that nurses, pharmacists and social workers can often perform tasks that today are handed to doctors by default.

Every year, IBM surveys hundreds of CEOs from around the globe about a variety of issues. Among 1,700 CEOs surveyed this year there were 58 who head hospitals, medical practice groups and insurers.

The CEO perspective is interesting, because most outsiders don’t think of collaboration as being a key outcome of medical technology. Most of us think of laser-guided surgical instruments or designer drugs or computerized analytics that spot hitherto unnoticed disease-causation chains.

The CEOs overall see technology as a way to open up their organizations to create value through collaboration. Making the organization more transparent makes it easier to share cultural values and goals. And that makes employees more receptive to tough changes, because they understand what’s behind the plan.

Far more than the leaders of other types of organizations, health care CEOs plan to sharply increase collaboration, both inside their own organizations and with partners. About two-thirds of health care chiefs said they will develop deeper relationships with partners over the next three to five years, compared to about half of other CEOs.

Internally they say they want to increase sharing of company knowledge and values by using social media tools that are secure but offer the same kinds of easy sharing as Facebook and Twitter. Eye-care company Bausch & Lomb has embraced an internal social platform that allows their international sales agents to log in and collaborate based on their experiences in the field. This has proved invaluable to their business for providing information on competitive and market issues in an instantly accessible format.

Good internal communications can assure that patients and customers get a consistent message, no matter how they deal with the company. All health care organizations are trying to move beyond office and emergency room visits as the primary way to communicate with people. They want to present relevant health advice in store-front clinics, in pharmacies, in e-mails and blogs and social media groups.

The biggest changes will come from opening up to patients in new ways. Most organizations already rely on their Web sites as a significant way to reach customers.

The CEOs think using social media, both to glean new insights and to communicate with individuals, is likely to transform many aspects of health care. One U.S. health care CEO said “social media and interactive Web sites will become new Channel Partners for communicating with our patients.”

Today, 25% of the CEOs rank social media as one of the three most significant ways they reach out to customers. But 68% think it will be one of the top three methods within five years. Over the same period, face-to-face contacts will fall in significance, according to the CEOs.

Unstructured information such as social media is also seen as a significant source of information by many payers and providers. They want to automatically monitor comments about their services and about health issues. Already some are tracking information from doctor notes and call center transcripts (after scrubbing patient identifiers) to understand medical issues better. Analytics are becoming crucial to manage health care costs by understanding the most effective processes and eliminating wasteful bottlenecks.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center maintains and analyzes large amounts of unstructured data about each patient such as clinical notes and e-mails with physicians. Coupled with images and standard health records, they provide a far more nuanced understanding of a patient and better treatment as a result, the hospital says.

The health care CEOs believe that the industry will be able to do a much better job of serving individual patients by analyzing the volumes of health data they create.  They expect to increasingly reach out to customers on their mobile phones and use them to monitor people on the go.

CEOs across the board are convinced that spending more on technology pays off.  Among companies that said they have integrated technology with their business organization, 69% performed better than average in creating innovation.

Mohamad Naraghi, MD, PhD is the Global Healthcare and Life Sciences Industries Leader at IBM Global Business Services. Heather Fraser is a global healthcare leader for IBM Institute for Business Value.

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4 Responses for “Healthcare CEOs Weigh In On Technology and the Growing Importance of Social Collaboration”

  1. john says:

    Interesting post in light of the post Facebook IPO backlash against all forms of social media. This dovetails nicely with what I’m hearing about CEO views on Twitter.

    Pretty sure a lot of people will miss this one with all of the hype flying around about social media. That’s a pity, because this is an important report.

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  3. bird says:

    As a primary care physician in the field, most of us look at these types of stories as laughable. I am not sure that medicine needs more social media, twitter, facebook, pedometers, biometric forms and care coordinators.
    Medicine needs a caring doctor who has time to listen to the patient and then has time develop a plan that will work for that patient. The patient needs to have the time to ask questions, be honest with the doctor regarding the plan and accept the responsibility as well. As along as the doctor is on the hamster wheel seeing a patient every 7 minutes this is not going to happen.

    Our current health care system is not broken, it is working exactly as it is designed to work. Expensive and volume driven. Can you imagine how expensive your auto insurance would be if had to include all fill ups, oil changes, tire rotations, body work, alternator repairs, brake and rotor replacement, engine overhauls all with just a $25 copay. Yet this is what health care has to do and we wonder why it is expensive.

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