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HealthTap Offerings Track the Evolution of Health Care

Posted on August 15, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site ( and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Health care evolves more quickly in the minds of the most visionary reformers than in real health care practices. But we are definitely entering on a new age:

  • Patients (or consumers, or whatever you want to call them–no good term has yet been developed for all of us regular people who want better lives) will make more of their own decisions and participate in health care.
  • Behavior change will be driven by immediate interventions into everyday life, and health care advice will be available instantly on demand instead of waiting for an annual visit to the doctor. Health care will be an integrated into life activities, not a distinct activity performed by a professional on a passive recipient.
  • Patient information will no longer be fragmented among the various health care providers with whom the patient comes in contact, but will be centralized with the patients themselves, integrated and able to support intelligent decision-making.
  • Mobile devices will be intimately entwined with daily behavior, able to provide instant feedback and nudges toward healthy alternatives.

I have seen this evolution in action over several years at HealthTap, a fascinating company that ties together more than 10 million patients a month and more than 62,000 doctors. I interviewed the charismatic founder, Ron Gutman, back in 2011 before they had even opened their virtual doors. At that time, I felt intrigued but considered them just a kind of social network tying together doctors and patients.

Gutman’s goals for health care were far greater than this, however, and he has resolutely added ratings, analytics, and other features to his service over the years. Most recently, HealthTap has moved from what I consider a social network to a health maintenance tool with continuous intervention into daily life–a tool that puts public health and patient empowerment at the top of its priorities. And it may go even farther–moving from seeking help on illness to promoting health, which Gutman describes simply and winningly as “feeling good.”

The center of the offering is a personal health record. Plenty of other organizations offer this, most famously Apple’s HealthKit. HealthTap’s personal health record is unique in supporting the service’s search feature, where patients can search for advice and get results tailored specifically to their age, medical conditions, etc.–not just the generic results one gets from a search engine. It also ties into HealthTap’s new services, including real time virtual consults with doctors.

Sample update from HealthTap

Gutman is by no means interested in maintaining a walled garden for his users; he is looking for ways to integrate with other offerings such as HealthKit and with the electronic health records used by health providers. He says, “The only entity that will win the game is the one that adds the most value to the user.”

Other new features tied in to the HealthTap services include:

  • A recommendation system for apps that can improve health and well-being. The apps are rated by the doctors within the HealthTap system, must be in Apple App Store or Google Play, and must be approved by the FDA (unless they are part of the large, new category of apps that the FDA has chosen not to regulate).
  • Off-the-shelf checklists to help patients manage medication, keep track of healthy behaviors, etc. As part of HealthTap Prime, a concierge service ($99 per year for the first person and $10 for each additional family member), the user can get personalized checklists from doctors, as well.
  • With the concierge service, subscribers also have the opportunity to directly contact a doctor any time, 24/7, on all popular mobile platforms, using live video, voice, and text.
  • The “Get Help” module in the HealthTap app provides useful checklists through all mobile devices, and even Android wearables. Patients can get reminders, useful links to relevant content, and other content pushed to their devices, at a pace they choose.

Some of these features–such as the recommended apps and personalized checklists–go beyond advice and constitute a type of treatment that is subject to legal liability. HealthTap has covered all its bases insuring doctors have insurance against mistakes.

The numbers show that HealthTap is a big community; comments received from Gutman about patients who say they’ve saved their lives show that it is an effective one. I think the choices they’ve made are insightful and illustrate the changes all health care institutions will have to make in order to stay relevant in the twenty-first century.

Comical Patient Portal Discussion

Posted on July 14, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve long been interested in how offices communicate their use of an EHR and patient portal to their patients. Long time readers might remember this EMR Under Construction sign that one office used.

I had a doctor send me this email exchange which isn’t necessarily a great suggestion for a practice, but it does illustrate many physicians view of what’s happening with EHR and patient portals:
Comical Patient Portal Comments
I’ll call back to Carl Bergman’s post asking “Has EHR Become a Bad Brand?” I think many doctors consider the EHR and patient portal as one thing. Of course they’re not always the same, but emails like this illustrate how the patient portal and EHR brand are doing…not so well. Although, my guess is that meaningful use has an even worse image in the eyes of doctors.

What is Direct?

Posted on June 10, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

John’s Update: Check out the full series of Direct Project blog posts by Julie Maas:

The specialist down the street insists he wants to receive your primary care doctor’s referrals, but only if it’s digital: “Sure, I’ll take your paper file referral sent via fax. But the service will cost an extra $20, to pay the scribe to digitize the record so I can properly incorporate the medical history.”

Does it really sound that far off? Search your feelings, Luke…

Will getting medical treatment using paper records soon be like trying to find somewhere to play that old mix tape you only have on cassette?  Sound crazy?  Try taking an x-ray film to a modern radiology department, and see if they still have a functioning light box anywhere to look at it.  It’s all digital now.

There are, of course, other factors.

Because MU2.

Because nobody, and I mean no small company and no large company, wants to be referred to as a data silo anymore.

Direct Exchange is a way of sending and receiving encrypted healthcare data, and certified EHRs must be able to speak it, beginning this year.  Adoption of Direct is increasing rapidly, and its secure transfer enables patient engagement as well as interoperability between systems that were previously dubbed silos.  Here is a brief overview of where Direct is currently required in the context of MU2 (please refer to certification and attestation requirements directly, for full details):

Certified ambulatory and acute EHRs need to use Direct for Transitions of Care (170.314(b)(1) and (b)(2)). They have to be able to Create a valid CCDA and Transmit it using Direct, and they have to be able to use Direct to Receive, Display, and Incorporate a CCDA. In the proposed MU 2015, the Direct piece may be de-coupled from the CCDA piece and modularized for certification purposes, but the end to end requirement would remain the same.

EHRs or their patient portal partner additionally need to demonstrate during certification that patients can View, Download, and Transmit via Direct their CCDA or a human readable version of it.  Yes, you heard correctly, I said patients.  As in patient engagement.

So, how does a healthcare provider get Direct?

1. Get a Direct account through your Direct-enabled EHR vendor

One way HIT vendors offer Direct is through a partnership with one or more HISPs (OpenEMR, QRS, Greenway, and others).  Others run their own HISPs (Cerner, athenahealth, and others).

2. Get a Direct account through an XD* HISP that’s connected to your EHR

HIT vendors alternatively enable access to Direct through an XD* plug-and-play (mostly) connector.  These “HISP-agnostic” EHRs allow healthcare organizations a choice between multiple XD*-capable HISPs when meeting MU2 measures (MEDITECH, Epic, Quadramed, and other EHRs have implemented Direct this way).  EMR Direct, MaxMD, Inpriva, and a few other HISPs offer XD* HISP services; not every HISP offers XD* service at this time.  Of course, there is a trade-off between this flexibility and the extra legwork required of the practice or hospital in setting up Direct.

3. Get a web-based or email client-based Direct account not tethered to an EHR or Personal Health Record (PHR)


Direct doesn’t have to be integrated into an EHR to transfer information digitally. Non-tethered accounts cannot attest to the sending side of (b)(2) nor the receiving side of (b)(1) on their own, but they can be Direct senders and receivers nonetheless, participating in Transitions of Care or data transfer for other purposes.  They may also be used to exchange health data with patients, billing companies, pharmacies, or other healthcare entities who are Direct-enabled. In fact, some very compelling use cases involve systems who may not have their own EHR, but want to receive digital transitions of care—one such example is skilled nursing facilities.

By the way, patients are also an integral part of the Direct ecosystem.  Several PHRs are already Direct-enabled, and more are on the way.

So, go digital and get your Direct address, and begin interoperating in the modern age!

Reality of Patient Engagement Infographic

Posted on April 23, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I always love a good infographic. Boston Technology has put one out that looks at patient engagement. Which of the numbers on the infographic pops out to you?

Realities of patient engagement

Planning a Successful Patient Engagement Strategy

Posted on April 2, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

On social media and at events like HIMSS, we hear a lot of discussion about this new trend called patient engagement. While there are certainly new tools to help an organization engage the patient, I don’t think it’s fair to say that patient engagement is a new strategy. Patient engagement has always been considered a good thing in practices and healthcare organizations.

The challenge is that we’ve never rewarded those who actually did engage the patient. Healthcare reimbursement has actually discouraged patient engagement despite providers natural desire to want to engage the patient. Every doctor I know would love to sit down with a patient for an hour and really engage them in their health. Unfortunately, we don’t pay them to do this.

While I don’t think we’ll see an over night transition to hour long visits with our doctors, the move to value based reimbursement will finally start rewarding providers who engage deeply with their patients.

The next question doctors should ask is where to start when it comes to patient engagement in this changing landscape. This whitepaper on 5 Elements of a Successful Patient Engagement Strategy would be a good place to start. It provides a realistic strategy for your organization to consider.

The whitepaper also has this great quote from Leonard Kish:

“If patient engagement were a drug, it would be the blockbuster drug of the century and malpractice not to use it.”

Those practices that choose to not have a patient engagement strategy are going to fall behind. This won’t be an issue right away, but it will catch up to many practices who don’t see the coming change.

#HIMSS14 Highlights: Enthusiasm for Patient Engagement

Posted on March 7, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Patient engagement solutions abounded at HIMSS14, though their levels of sophistication varied. Like many other commentators, I felt this was a big jump in interest over last year. It will be interesting to see if this level sustains into 2015, and how the same products will mature come HIMSS15 in Chicago.

The theme of engagement was heard most loudly in several educational sessions I attended. I was happy to pre-register for an Orion Health / ePatient Dave event; and make time at the last minute to attend a live demo of the new Blue Button Connector, and a brief presentation by Regina Holliday, founder of the Walking Gallery.

I believe ePatient Dave (aka Dave deBronkart) has been at this awhile, but the Orion Health lunch and learn I attended was my first opportunity to hear him tell his story live. And what a compelling story it was! It certainly resonated with the audience of about 75, and I couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t up on stage in a “From the Top” session. The theme that ran throughout his presentation and audience questions was the need for online patient communities, and the subsequent need for providers to let their patients know about them. Websites like and were brought up as interesting resources.


I headed from there to the exhibit hall, where HIMSS had set up a very nice learning gallery, complete with comfy chairs, swivel desktops and a nice presentation area. Lygeia Ricciardi spent a good 20 minutes going through the new Blue Button Connector website, which you can find here: While not a true, live demo, she did offer several screenshots, and was very forthcoming about the ONC’s plans and goals for the site. Apparently they see it as almost a marketing tool, similar to the Energy Star label you see on just about every appliance these days. The Blue Button symbol will hopefully come to be recognized as an endorsement of easy access to patient data. She was frank in saying that it’s not a panacea, but will be a powerful tool in the hands of consumers, and developers who choose to take advantage of its open source code and bake it into their own apps.


It is literally a connector. The new website simply allows patients to connect to third parties that may house their medical records, such as payers, pharmacy, labs, physicians or hospitals, immunization registries and health information exchange portals. Knowing I already have a provider that participates in Blue Button via their athenahealth patient portal, I went through the “Physician or Hospital” steps to see how the Connector worked. I didn’t see my physician listed, so I’ll likely send an email to The Connector is in beta right now, and Riccardi mentioned they are very interested in gathering as much user feedback as possible during this process, so I encourage you to check it out and drop them a comment or two.

I was back at the Learning Gallery the next afternoon to hear Regina Holliday of the Walking Gallery speak, and she did not disappoint. Like a preacher that just can’t stay in the pulpit, Regina passionately talked about the power patients have when they come together and demand change. It was my first time hearing her speak live and I was not disappointed. It was a powerful sight to see close to 30 Walking Gallery members stand up at the end of her session and show their jackets. Why they were not on a larger stage in front of a capacity audience is beyond me.


That’s it for my notes from HIMSS. Next up on my conference dance card is the Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Conference, taking place April 7-8 in Las Vegas, and hosted by I hope to see you there!

Value of Meaningful Use – Perspective from EHR Executive at simplifyMD

Posted on February 11, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Michael Brozino, in response to the question I posed in my “State of the Meaningful Use” call to action.

If MU were gone (ie. no more EHR incentive money or penalties), which parts of MU would you remove from your EHR immediately and which parts would you keep?

Michael Brozino
Michael Brozino
Michael Brozino, CEO of simplifyMD

If Meaningful Use were no longer a requirement, we would keep our software the same. I say this because there is nothing in our system that was built within the requirements of Meaningful Use that weren’t deployed with the intent of improving patient engagement, enhancing public health, promoting health record portability and improving software interoperability. The fact that 100 percent of our users who have chosen to attest for MU have been successful is certainly a benefit, but we don’t see much reason to remove any functionality unless the user’s benefit diminishes significantly and it becomes too expensive to support and implement.

Rather, if MU disappeared, we would hope that the entire healthcare industry or government would implement centralized, universal healthcare data exchanges and/or hubs to ease interoperability and promote uniformity. Features such as personal health records, electronic delivery of labs and receipt of orders, syndromic surveillance data, state immunization records, clinical decision support rules, secure patient messaging, and many others could have been easily implemented if the government fully committed to putting them in place. By only going halfway, standardization is left to a group of players that by their very nature are opinionated and independent.

ePrescribing, for example, has thrived because a central hub exists to allow competitors to quickly join the network. Competition between these organizations is now about who delivers the best user experience, the best customer support, and who adds the most value to their product. If such a central exchange were created for the interoperability requirements in MU, we would have already surpassed the goals of Stages 2 and 3 by 2014.

See other responses to this question here.

What’s Imaging Got to Do with EMRs?

Posted on January 13, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I’ll continue documenting my New Year’s resolution / Blue Button pledge journey next week so that this week I can share a recent interview I did with Yassin Sallam, National/International Sales Director at BRIT Systems. A Twitter encounter turned into a very interesting post-RSNA conversation about the evolving relationship between medical imaging and EMRs.

In our current world of increasing interoperability and patient engagement, how do medical imaging systems interact with today’s EMRs?
For several years, medical imaging systems have provided the ability to interact and launch from EMR portals. However, in many cases the set-up, maintenance and cost uplift requirements prohibits extension to the patient. At times, even simply extending access to trusted partners within a health system or medical community is cost prohibitive. Plus, IT organizations are concerned about the increased probability of security breaches when widely extending electronic access to patient information.

Today, medical images are readily accessible from EMRs via URL links. Different vendors implement different schemes for security, however, so the integration can still be time consuming and expensive.

The industry has certainly recognized room for improvement, namely via patient portals. In my experience, portals consistently make the list of top-five priorities a healthcare CIO seeks to address. The emphasis is often on scheduling, appointment confirmation, lab results, and radiology reports. Technology available today allows for cost effective, efficient and meaningful image enabling platforms.

What role do (and will) imaging systems play in HIEs?
There are approximately 217 HIE networks in the US, and they range in maturity and list of priorities. Image access is an inevitable value-add for these health networks. Whether a provider is looking to reduce cost, or a patient’s exposure to radiation; transfer a patient from one surgical team to another; provide access to a second opinion; expedite therapeutic decisions to shorten the length of stay; or better manage population demands, the availability of medical imaging is an important factor. Platform infrastructure and industry standards can achieve functional, cost effective interoperable imaging systems.

Creating image access and enabling interoperability with EMRs and other hospital IT systems is the foundation of browser-based solutions. BRIT Systems hopes to add to the momentum of representing images at the forefront of patient records with our interoperable solutions.

I’m intrigued by the article you sent me regarding the Radiolopolis Radiology Network. When I think of social networking in healthcare, radiology isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Why do you think social networking can be a vital part of today’s community of radiology practitioners?
Radiologists work under the pressure of producing quick turnaround, high quality, concise and accurate reports based on what they see in images. The quality of the report may be perceived to rely solely on the words of the radiologist. Consideration should be given to the holistic workflow, which includes: the procedure ordered, at times by the referring physician with no consultation of a radiologist; equipment utilized; skill level of the technologist operating the equipment; quality of the hardware used by the radiologist to view the images; and THEN the words of the radiologist.

Radiologists practice in a wide range of environments. Most do not have the support of specialists or peer consultation accessible in the short timeframe needed to meet service-level agreements. Social media is an outlet, when configured by Radiolopolis, for purposes of a practicing radiologist, that can assist in higher confidence reporting.

Also, we’ve all seen those beautiful ultrasound baby pictures. They give a whole new meaning to baby’s first picture. Who wouldn’t want to share those friends and family?

Patient Engagement Strategies Must Start with the Patient

Posted on December 18, 2013 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Matt Adamson, vice president of product management for ACO and value-based health at ZeOmega

Healthcare providers are preparing to engage patients at a deeper level than ever before as they strive to achieve quality and savings metrics required of accountable care models being implemented across the country. However, a critical, lingering question remains – will patients participate? Patients have grown accustomed to seeking out healthcare information on their own, with the top five healthcare websites logging more than 78 million unique visitors monthly.[i] While this is clearly a positive sign that must be leveraged to move the needle even further, the answer could lie with the addition of the care coordinator that exists in most accountable care and medical homes.

A patient portal is seen as the most likely way that care providers will interact with patients outside of resource intensive office visits or telephone conversations, but any technology adoption must be accompanied by monumental shifts in attitudes among both physicians and patients in order to be successful. Physicians already are strapped for time and few are reimbursed for patient engagement beyond the traditional face-to-face interaction. Likewise, patients may hesitate to “bother” their doctors with questions or access their personal healthcare information online.

Care coordinators could serve as the bridge that connects physicians and patients, bringing them together at a clinical connection point. Relatively new in the healthcare system, care coordinators generally are nurses with care management experience who can help put conditions and diagnoses into the appropriate clinical context while speaking with patients on their level. The patient portal would provide another avenue for patients to communicate with the care coordinator, who would serve as the liaison to the physician when appropriate.

Meaningful Use Drives Push for Patient Engagement

Patient engagement will be a critical consideration in achieving Stage 2 Meaningful Use. Now extended through 2016, Stage 2 includes objectives to improve patient care through better clinical decision support, care coordination and patient engagement. Patient engagement metrics will require that more than 5% of a practice’s patients send secure messages to the provider and more than 5% of the patients access their health information online.[ii]

The Medicare Shared Savings Programs (MSSP) and the Partnership for Patients community-based care transitions program both have measures related directly to demonstrating an enhanced communication experience between patients and physicians that can lead to recognition and additional revenue for practices and hospitals. The NCQA Patient-Centered Medical Home certification also includes elements related to patient engagement. One of the critical certification factors requires contact with at least 50% of patients to develop and document self-management plans and goals.[iii]

Beyond regulations and certifications, patient engagement is also being shown to help meet the cost savings aspects of accountable care. Patients who are more engaged have fewer hospital stays, adhere more often to prescribed medical treatments, recover faster and are more satisfied with their care.[iv]

Engaged patients are also more successful at managing chronic illness than those who are not. More than 40% of Americans are living with at least one chronic disease, which overall cause seven in 10 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Getting Patients Involved in Their Own Health

As clinicians work more closely with patients who are trying to manage chronic illness, it is important to note that the time patients spend with physicians, nurses and other care providers represents a very small percentage of the overall time spent managing conditions or treatments. The patient and other caregivers are largely responsible for adhering to care plans and making the necessary lifestyle changes to accommodate chronic conditions. Patients who are educated about their conditions and engaged in the process will more likely succeed in keeping their chronic conditions in check.

So using a patient portal or similar technology would seem a rational, logical way for patients to learn more about their conditions and interact with care providers in a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that. With all of the rules, metrics and evidence that are mandated for the clinician community, there are no such rules in place that require compliance for patients.

A portal would allow patients to contact their doctor any time, day or night, to ask a question or relate treatment information. But few doctors are trained for or desire that type of high-touch interaction, especially since reimbursement for that type of interaction is rare. The United States also is facing a rather serious primary care shortage in many areas, one that will be exacerbated as up to 30 million uninsured obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act. So what’s the best use of physician time – diagnosing and treating an increasing number of patients or answering questions by secure email?

Patient portals and other technologies that Meaningful Use is bringing into common usage will not move the needle toward smarter health choices on their own. The technology has to be helpful and interesting for patients, providing them with an easy way to connect with care providers when they need help and to get updates and reminders when needed.

This is why the idea of using care coordinators in the role of engaging patients when not in the physician office or receiving direct care is gaining traction. The goal of care coordinators would be to guide patients and help them to navigate the healthcare system so that they stay on track with their treatments between physician visits. Care coordinators would have a direct link to a patient’s physicians, bringing them in only when needed.

Secure messaging and emails could provide an easy way for patients to submit questions or take action when they are ready to do so. Platforms that can connect and share the nursing care plans between the care coordinator, caregivers and the patient could be highly effective, especially if there are issues resulting from chronic or acute conditions. This seamless connection would allow the care coordinator to pass along educational content and become part of a two-way mechanism for tracking medications in a manner that allows patients to update and print the list.

From there, embedding incentive management and gaming features into the portal would provide a reason for the patient to keep coming back to continue the engagement.

Technology platforms built to enable the connection between the patient and the care coordinator could be the missing pieces of the puzzle that would allow patients to become more involved in their health and allow the promise of patient engagement to become a reality.

Making Meaningful Use of Hospital Social Engagement Strategies

Posted on November 22, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

My latest healthcare field trip took me to the Health 2.0 Atlanta Meetup group, a blossoming community of startup professionals, investors and folks like me who want to stay abreast of innovation happening on the fringes of our industry. Previous events have been dedicated to startup showcasing, but this most recent meetup turned the tables by gathering a panel of marketing executives from three of Atlanta’s most well-known health systems – WellStar, Piedmont and Emory.

I think if this panel had gotten together last year, or even two years ago, all the talk would have been around how to market their EMRs to current and prospective patients. (WellStar and Piedmont are on Epic, while Emory is on Cerner.) EMRs were mentioned once or twice. The big theme that seemed to run throughout the series of moderated questions was … wait for it … patient engagement. More specifically, all three panelists stressed the importance of using social media as a patient acquisition and retention tool. As Sandra Mackey, Executive Director of Marketing at Emory, so succinctly stated, social media is no longer a “need to have,” but rather a “must have.”

Matt Gove, CMO and SVP of External Affairs at Piedmont, noted that he has been able to demonstrate solid ROI from the health system’s social media efforts, connecting the dots between Piedmont messaging in Facebook feeds to booked appointments and revenue-generating procedures. Both Piedmont and WellStar have turned to third parties like Brightwhistle, Tailfin and ReachLocal to help them pinpoint the best places for social messaging. Gove’s efforts have been so successful that he has focused more staff on social media management, and now integrates social media into more campaigns than ever before.

All three panelists seemed to agree that marketing spend going forward won’t be on big media like radio and T.V. ads, but rather on messaging that reaches a patient’s inbox or Facebook feed. Mackey noted that people are growing up on social media now, and they wouldn’t dream of going anywhere but to their social networks for healthcare recommendations. Her comment directly correlated to Gove’s simple wish for physicians to do their jobs well. A positive experience lends itself to stories that can be shared among patients’ social networks, potentially garnering that hospital exponential exposure and brand recognition.

I wonder how hospitals will adapt their social engagement strategies over the next year. What will be top of mind for hospital marketing executives in 2014 and beyond? Give me your take by leaving a comment below.