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pharmaceutical industry
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private health insurance
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social media and healthcare
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TGA
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How social media is connecting people in public health: some lessons from WA

Croakey is always interested to learn how people in the health sector – especially public health – are engaging with new media.

In WA, a micro-blogging tool called Yammer is proving useful for internal communications within the public health workforce and more broadly, report Lizanne Sivapalan and Tarun Weeramanthri, from the WA Health Department.

Lizanne Sivapalan and Tarun Weeramanthri write:

Staff in large organisations often express a desire to be more engaged through proactive and targeted internal communications.

LS was an avid user of social media, and could see no reason why virtual relationships and increased ability to engage with friends, colleagues and family could not transfer into a professional setting. TW had read of a micro-blogging site called Yammer, and wanted to try something new.

So we found out more (through web searches and conversations with early adopters in Australia such as Deloitte), and commenced a trial with 240 staff in the WA Health Public Health Division in May 2010.

The central question Yammer asks users is ‘What are you working on?’ We have used the tool primarily for work purposes, not social networking. Guidelines, FAQs and training materials have been created and customised with this emphasis. The onus is on staff to behave responsibly on Yammer as they do in all other aspects of their work life, and with other technologies (email, telephone etc), and they have.

Security is a key feature of Yammer. Staff with the same work email domain can join, providing a private environment in which to collaborate.  Yammer also promotes ‘follow-ship’, made famous by Twitter whereby staff are encouraged to ‘follow’ the posts, updates and messages of colleagues and managers.

The site is easy to use, and within a few months, we reached almost 700 members, signalling that many outside the Public Health Division, but within WA Health had been invited and joined. The site connects workers across different sites and branches, and also allows managers to engage staff in a different and thought provoking manner.

There have been some hiccups, with Yammer emails sometimes being treated as spam, and not all managers have been enthusiastic or seen its potential.

The plan for 2011 is to expand short technical training for those unfamiliar with using such tools, and to better fit Yammer usage within a broader Divisional communications strategy. We will continue to monitor usage, develop a more formal evaluation framework, and consider the need for a moderator.

We sometimes forget that our staff are a microcosm of the public.

It is said that over 45% of the public now prefer dealing with the government via the internet (Australian Government information Management Office (AGIMO) December 2009).

Public health in particular, and health services generally will inevitably reorient themselves to the new technologies, but first we need to understand how they are being used. Using a micro-blogging tool for staff communication is a good place to start.

For more information on the WA Department of Health’s trial with Yammer, contact tarun.weeramanthriAThealth.wa.gov.au or Lizanne.SivapalanAThealth.wa.gov.au.

***
Update: Meanwhile, here is the link to last night’s discussion of the #hcsmanz group

Comments 10

  1. Tully Rosen says:

    A number of NSW NGOs are considering adopting the free admin systems available to non-profits through the Salesforce.com Foundation. A useful and fully integrated part of their system is “Chatter”, which is similar to Yammer, and with extra workflow connectivity.

    http://www.salesforcefoundation.org/products/nonprofit_solution

  2. Margo says:

    LS and TW: Could you explain a bit more about who ‘we’ are, as in ‘so we found out more… and commenced a trial’? I am esp interested in the roles of staff (what level?) and management in considering and advancing this innovation. My experience of health department bureaucracies suggests that it is quite difficult and time-consuming to obtain official agreement to proceed with something like this, so I’d be interested to know how the process worked (eg., whether there was a ‘champion’ within management, etc.).

  3. Tarun Weeramanthri says:

    Margo, LS is a Project Officer within WA Health’s Institute for Healthy Leadership and TW is Executive Director of Public Health Division. We worked together in quick cycles, promoted uptake through the Division via staff meetings, modelled posts, and worked on removing blocks that sprang up. Having a champion or two is undoubtedly important. Also see Craig Thomler’s Nov 25 blog on barriers to online engagement and addressing IT concerns at egovau.blogspot.com

  4. Sam says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with providing employees an avenue to interact virtually and talk about what they are working on. There are many networks and communities that use social media to establish and maintain professional relationships. Promoting such initiatives in public sector requires careful consideration. For example, there is the matter of security. As technology advances, so do the skills of online hackers, and we must be conscious of the risks associated with using such online media for discussing professional activities. There is also the need to consider the value to the organisation. Commitment by an organisation to support and facilitate (by for example, investing IT resources to ensure a secure forum) cannot be justified (in this day and age) without returns to the organisation. Measuring organisational value in public sector (health, in particular), is another whole topic.

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Australian Palliative Care Conference