Social pharma faces: Ed Bennett

Rebecca Aris interviews Ed Bennett

University of Maryland Medical Center

pharmaphorum interviews Ed Bennett, director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, on social media use within the healthcare industry.

In the latest in our social pharma faces series we’re stepping away from individuals in the pharma industry and onto a well known face in healthcare social media. Edward Bennett was recognised by FierceHealthcare in 2011 as one of their ‘11 faces to follow in healthcare social media’.

Ed regularly writes and speaks about the importance of social media in healthcare. His website contains a well organised list of all the social media sites that hospitals have put up in the United States for people to visit and find out what their competitors are doing in that space.

He speaks with us on the importance of a social media policy, how to turn negative social media comments into a positive message and on his journey from being a fire juggler to the director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical Centre.

Interview summary

RA: Edward, thank you for taking part in this interview. You’ve come from being a fire juggler to a director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, could you please start by explaining how you made that journey?

EB: It’s not the normal path that most folks travel to get to a hospital marketing web position. I became very interested in the internet in the mid-90s when I was a repairman. Around ’94 when the internet came along and started to become a very powerful commercial tool. I quit my job, became a consultant and started helping organisations get their first website up.

I helped about 100 companies in the Baltimore area get their first website in the late ‘90s and then an opportunity came along to manage the web programme at a hospital near me, which is the University of Maryland Medical Centre. I took the job because I saw a huge opportunity there. Very, very few hospitals had a website and the ones that did had very primitive websites.

My plan was that our website would become one of the top hospital websites and I set out a strategy to make that happen. I set out a content library, search engine optimisation and various other techniques to get us high rankings on search engines. So that’s kind of how I got in to it (well that’s the short version of the story).


“Social media was becoming a very important part of how people were communicating on the web.”


RA: What creative uses of social media in healthcare have you noted?

EB: What’s interesting is that the most creative things are not happening from the organisations – patients really are leading the way. They are finding each other, communicating, sharing information and coming in to the healthcare system with much more knowledge about the intricacies about their condition than the same patient would have say ten years ago.

That is the biggest driver for hospitals to enter social media – when they realise that they need to tap in to this and be sitting at the table in these communities, offering information.

There are lots of innovative techniques that hospitals are using, everything from setting up Facebook groups for patient support to doing things like live surgical Twitter casts.

Some doctors are very actively connecting with people through their blog, Twitter account or Facebook, sharing information talking about their areas of expertise. Doctors that are investing the time in this are finding that they are getting patients from it.

The Mayo Clinic is starting to set up videos of their doctors where the doctor is talking to a new patient, welcoming them to the Mayo Clinic, explaining what they should expect when they come to see them on their first meeting and answering basic questions that most people have about a particular condition. They’re finding that by the time the patient comes in to the office, the doctor has already answered some of the most important and common questions that they and every other patient with the same condition has. The time that they’re spending face to face is now much better used because they can get right in to the specific questions the patient has and they’ve already established some sort of connection.

RA: What other benefits do you see for the healthcare industry in using social media?

EB: In the US, hospitals are going to be moving towards a fundamentally different way of getting paid. Until now, hospital reimbursements have been based on the procedures that you do and the appointments you’ve had. We’re now moving more towards an accountable care model where reimbursements, at least for Medicare and Medicaid, are going to be shifting towards outcomes.

This is going to require a higher level of communication and follow up between the hospital, the healthcare professionals at the hospital and the patient after they have been discharged. I think social media is going to play a part in that.

Not only is this going to improve the quality of healthcare overall but it’s going to be a very important factor if hospitals want to get paid.


“There are lots of innovative techniques that hospitals are using, everything from setting up Facebook groups for patient support to doing things like live surgical Twitter casts.”


RA: Why do you think a social media policy is so important?

EB: A social media policy is absolutely critical for any organisation whether you’re a hospital, a bank, any organisation at all that has employees. The policy is there to protect the organisation from any inappropriate behaviour that an employee may do that reflects badly on the organisation.

Every hospital should have a social media policy that clearly states that employees are expected to follow all existing standards for patient privacy, HIPAA rules, and professional behaviour standards – everything that has been in place for decades.

A social media policy basically says ‘all the ways that we expect you to behave in a professional manner also apply in a social media space’.

This protects the organisation if something inappropriate happens. It’s also there to give the staff guidelines on how we expect them to behave.

RA: How do you think hospitals can make the most of social media?

EB: The most important thing that a hospital can do is monitor and listen to what is being said. Most hospitals, including my own, do not have a dedicated social media person.

There are tools out there that will report back in real time what is being posted about your organisation on Twitter or Facebook or any of the other open public forums.


“We’re now moving more towards an accountable care model where reimbursements, at least for Medicare and Medicaid, are going to be shifting towards outcomes…”


RA: What do you think needs to change in order for hospitals to become more active in social media?

EB: There has to be a better understanding of what the real risks of social media are.

Typically there is concern that ‘if we set up a Facebook page and we allow people to comment they’re going to say bad things about us and we can’t control that’. The reality of course is I’ve monitored hundreds of Facebook pages that hospitals have put up and the vast majority – 99.9% are neutral or positive.

Negative comments are very rare and when they happen it’s actually an opportunity for the hospital to shine and respond to the complaint. When you show that you are actively trying to resolve the situation in a public forum that actually reflects very well on the hospital. A negative can get turned in to a positive.

The second thing that has to change is they need open access to social media inside their networks. I don’t have any hard data on this but my sense from talking to my peers at other hospitals is that over 50% of hospitals block social media type channels inside their network.

The message that it’s sending is that management doesn’t trust its employees, and is out of touch with how people communicate these days. Blocking doesn’t work because anyone who wants to connect with social media can do it from their smart phone. They’re really not gaining anything by blocking and they’re losing the opportunity to use social media in a positive way.

RA: What advice would you offer the pharma industry on social media use?

EB: I’m not in the pharma industry but I know they have their own particular set of regulations to follow. The only advice I would offer is to be constantly monitoring what is being said about you.

There could be a crisis or public relations problem around a drug, which may have been talked about in social media prior to it actually exploding into something that turns in to a PR crisis. If you’re monitoring, then you at least have the opportunity to know what is being said and possibly being able to step in and mitigate it.

RA: Edward, thank you very much for your time and for your insight.




About the interviewee:

Ed manages web operations at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), and have over fifteen years experience working on the Internet. He has worn many hats – programmer, designer, consultant, information architect, start-up participant, etc., but his current focus is Social Media and its impact on health care, which is the primary topic of his blog. He is active in #HCSM (Health Care Social Media Community).

Ed also sits on the following Advisory Boards:

• Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media

• A.D.A.M. Health Solutions Client Advisory Board

How can hospitals make the most of social media?