Some staffers from the public health division of the WA Health Department wrote a post for Croakey late last year, describing how they have been using the micro-blogging tool Yammer for internal communications and more broadly.
Below, Dr Edwin Kruys, a GP from Geraldton and a regular contributor on Twitter, reviews the experience of one general practice that has been trialling Yammer.
The pros and cons of internal social networking in general practice
Edwin Kruys writes:
There I am, in my consulting room, behind closed doors. My email inbox is overflowing and the messages via the internal messenger system are stacking up. There is a limit to the phone calls you can answer during a consultation before a patient marches out and decides to look for another doctor.
Yet as GPs we’re in the middle of the web and somehow we manage to communicate a lot – not only with our patients – but also with receptionists, nurses, registrars, medical students, allied health, other doctors and hospitals.
In our practice we have introduced Yammer, a social networking tool, to facilitate internal communication.
Even though the size of our practice team has grown over the years, the majority of my job still takes place behind closed doors. The cornerstone of general practice is the one-on-one patient-doctor relationship, but at the same I am one member of a larger group of health professionals that looks after the same patient. This requires communication and coordination.
What is Yammer?
I was thinking about ways to improve communication and via Twitter I came across Yammer, one of the enterprise social networks that focus on internal communications. It seemed to me that Yammer had a huge potential.
And indeed, there are many theoretical advantages. A discussion via threads on the Yammer ‘message board’ is a lot easier to follow than multiple emails replies going back and forth between different participants. Yammer helps you to organise and file messages, and to find topics that have been discussed before.
A great feature is that Yammer gives users the option to select what information they want to receive by joining groups, following certain people or topics (‘hashtags’). Information, like an internet link or an agenda for a meeting, can be attached, placed on Yammer and pulled off by users, instead of being ‘pushed’ to inboxes. Yammer stores files and discussions forever and they can be retrieved at any time without trawling through email inboxes
Besides group messages, there is an option to send private messages to one or more recipients, and there are other features like polls, an event agenda, and giving people praise. All users can create a profile with a picture which is a really nice way of getting to know your colleagues. Your picture shows up in all messages you send.
Yammer is accessible via internet, a desktop application called ‘AirDesktop’ and via iPone, iPad, Android phones and BlackBerry. There is a range of plugins and third party apps. To gain access to your company’s Yammer platform you need to have a company email address.
How did it go?
We took the plunge and introduced a four month trial of the basic, free version of Yammer (March-June 2011). I had estimated that the main challenges would be to optimise the ‘signal-noise’ ratio (minimise chatter) and to engage people that normally wouldn’t bother to participate in social media.
Education was mainly one-on-one. One workshop was organised for receptionists. People using internal email and social media outside the work situation were among the early adopters. Eventually 42 people joined (out of 49).
My experience was that Yammer made our group practice immediately feel smaller. Yammer discussions started to happen between doctors, nurses, receptionists and my email inbox was not overflowing anymore. All sorts of groups were started – some more work-related than others. A small group of people with smart phones were using the mobile Yammer app to communicate from outside the practice and outside working hours.
There was another group of people that did not use Yammer. Various reasons were given, the main reasons being ‘no time’ and ‘distracting’. Some people preferred a one-on-one messenger system without the social networking. One reason was that the incoming message Yammer icon in the taskbar does not differentiate between a private message or a group message; this was an issue in our practice as private messages are often used for urgent matters whereas group discussions are often not urgent.
Initially most of the interactions on Yammer were social, and not work or task oriented. Once our managers were using Yammer more often, more people seemed to participate. At the end of the trial, the content changed and was more work-related. At that stage we coincidentally changed our clinical software and Yammer was used to exchange experiences, ask questions and help each other – sometimes from different locations like the nursing homes.
After four months, the management board decided to use Yammer for internal group discussions as an alternative to email and some meetings. It was decided that patient-related messages and questions to which a quick answer was required would be sent via the messenger system that was part of our clinical software package.
Advantages of this clinical messenger system are that it can be linked to the patient database and received messages can be added to a ‘to-do’ list. These features were not available in the free trial version of Yammer.
Although I did not perform a pre and post Yammer study, the four month trial was very useful and gave us a good indication of the pros and cons.
Yammer works well for group discussions, staff announcements, and asking people for their opinion or help. It reduces email traffic and has a positive effect on the work atmosphere and makes the practice feel smaller. The mobile applications are very good.
The integrated Yammer private messenger system is not user-friendly – the reason why we are using another messenger system instead. We are developing a social media policy and more workshops will be organised to increase user confidence.
• Dr Edwin Kruys is from the Geraldton Medical Group
Update, 5 July
An article on how one company (Suncorp) is using Yammer