Hospital tries marketing with patient Web logs

A North Carolina hospital is hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of Web logs, or blogs, by turning a collection of first-person accounts of patient experiences into a marketing tool.

Since March, High Point (N.C.) Regional Health System has been encouraging patients to maintain personal blogs of their thoughts, concerns and experiences while going through specific medical episodes. To date, five patients have posted blogs, describing their experiences with mini-gastric bypass procedures, prenatal care and cancer for others who might be considering High Point Regional for their own care.

"Research has shown that journaling, or any form of expressing your thoughts, can be very beneficial to the people going through a medical condition," High Point Regional's marketing coordinator, Aaron Wall, said. "It actually is a good exercise for them to be able to get their thoughts out."

One lymphoma patient gave this advice for others undergoing chemotherapy: "I suggest that you request freezing spray prior to the nurse sticking you, this stops any discomfort you might feel."

A gastric bypass patient described follow-up care as such: "Monday morning, I woke up feeling really crabby. My mouth felt weird. I didn't want to eat or drink anything. We drove back to High Point that afternoon for clinic to remove my staples. They came out easily and without pain. I got on the scale and found out I'd lost 10 pounds! In only 4 days! I'm still sure most of it was from that left leg."

Wall said that his boss, marketing director Eric Fletcher, came up with the idea for patient blogs. "He was seeing how effectively blogs were being used in the corporate sector and saw how they could benefit patients," according to Wall. The hospital has been adding one to two new patient journals a week since mid-April. "What we hope to someday have is a blogging community that represents the whole of the community that we serve," Wall said.

Wall said he has asked clinicians and others who interact directly with patients to try to identify people who might be good candidates to blog about their experiences. Because of HIPAA privacy regulations, the marketing department does not have access to individual patient information.

"This is not a forum to discuss politics or anything like that," Wall said. Hospital staff vet entries for profanity and anything "extremely off topic," according to Wall, though he said that editing has been virtually nonexistent to date.

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