Skip directly to content

A Preliminary Design for a Social Media Campaign for Patient Support: In Search of Out-of-Country Excellence

on Mon, 07/09/2012 - 01:46


A Preliminary Design for a Social Media Campaign for Patient Support: In Search of Out-of-Country Excellence 

(An academic exercise for the UBC Strategy and Marketing course, Winter 2012, Grade: A)

Goal: To develop a social media marketing strategy directed to the support of patients who wish to find excellent medical care for tertiary and quaternary  procedures that are not readily available within their proximate geographic locations and thereby break down traditional parochial geographic barriers and help open the avenues to the provision of advanced medical services via a world market.


Context: The provision of medical services in most advanced economies in general, and in Canada in particular, is customarily based on an autarchic geographic proximity model.  If I live in British Columbia, and suffer from a particular pathology, I expect that medical services for any and all procedures will be provided by the local institutionally recognized system. By its structure, I am also made to accept that in the vast majority of cases, I will be provided with excellent world class care from local sources.  Unlike almost all other industries, the notion that there are comparative advantages and weaknesses in each jurisdiction and that we could all be better off accessing from distant locations, is not even recognized for the delivery of medical services as possible but for the most rare and difficult of cases. If an international market for advanced medical services existed then patients would be better off because they could seek out those facilities and doctors who were the best. Wherever excellence existed, it would attract patients;  less qualified facilities and doctors would not be as much in demand. True, there would be short term inequalities (the rich would get better services, or, as is the case in a universal health care system, the government would have to pay the tab).  However, over time the market would make adjustments and as productivity increases and quality differentials diminish, more patients would get better care and the overall costs would decline.


In a jurisdiction with universal health care, the only mandate is to provide equal care for all; nothing is sacred concerning who actually provides that care or where the care is administered. If providers from outside the jurisdiction can provide better care( i.e.  positive  outcomes are higher) at equal or less cost, then the society not only fulfills its mandate of fairness but potentially saves money in the equation. Society is better off merely by measures of quality of service, even if the overall costs have not declined.

The present model for the provision of advanced medical services perpetuates an illusion that can only result in a less than optimal solution for the patient in particular, and society in general. I am always reminded of the fact that for any grouping of hospitals and medical service providers, at least half of the group is below average.  Note that in all statistics collected on delivery of service there is sparse data that compares outcomes by physician and/or facility.

The present medical delivery system is antithetical to the future vision envisioned  by the rapid and universal spread WBSM. It is only a matter of time before the disconnect between the medical solutions that are now available to BC residents, as an example, will not be accepted as adequate and an alternate, global-based delivery system will gradually become the norm.[1].

Fundamental building blocks: In this pilot project, I am, in the first instance, targeting prospective patients who are seeking alternate treatment protocols locations for the remediation of their particular pathologies. The three primary building blocks that will be most important to them as potential users of my WBSM strategy are:

(1)    Identity: Users of this platform will need to disclose the most detailed and personal information about themselves. They can, however, remain anonymous. This volunteered self disclosure has major implications for privacy issues. There must be trust that the site used will not be exploitive of their condition and related vulnerability.

(2)    Sharing: Users of my platform will need to exchange, distribute, and receive pertinent content.  The functional objective of my social media platform will be the open and exploratory exchange of information. The conversations must be theirs; their voice must be heard, and sound information must be imparted both by me and by other community members. A common feeling among patients in distress is the feeling of isolation and often the uniqueness of their predicament. The ability to share with others in similar conditions not only cuts the feeling of isolation, but through a community of interest, a sense of empowerment is engendered.

(3)    Conversation: Users will need a space that will facilitate conversations among individuals and groups. My site will be about facilitating rich, often lengthy conversations that can be traced back on the blog itself. The conversations will be among the members, from me to members, and from related professionals to members. My platform must be able to provide a comprehensive and easily accessible historical thread to all conversations.


Leveraging Bought, owned and earned media:  The three-legged approach to help build members’ best stories about my brand (as a non-profit guide to patients who believe they are not getting the best possible care and are lost in their search for viable alternatives) would have an interrelated and interdependent buy, owned and earned components.

(1)    Buy campaign:  My primary focus for my buy campaign will be the patient forums with click through placements. My pitch will be to identify myself as a source of impartial and professional advice. I will stress that I have no implementation capacity and hidden revenue generating agenda.  In addition, I will place banner ads in trade journals and attend the national forum of the Medical Tourism Association annual conventions. My objective will be to identify and direct professionals and their organizations to my blog. I will focus on particular pathologies; heart, cancer and orthopedics. Part of this buy campaign will be to explore a strategic advertising campaign on LinkedIn. This component of my campaign will be directed to those professional forums that are composed of professional providers and consultants to patients.  A final shameless buy campaign component will be my liberal distribution of my business cards by personal contact. These cards will direct eyeballs straight to my blog.

(2)    Owned Campaign:  Central to my owned campaign, will be the development of pertinent material on my blog so that visitors will become empowered by the information provided and will find both pathways to other patients in like situations or ones who had resolved their medical issues. The purpose will be to  open dialogues that will not  only remove the feelings of isolation, but will also provide easy, step-by-step processes to the remediation of the identified pathologies by international medical delivery systems. Throughout the process and for every facet of solution provision, I will try to convey the profile of an honest information broker.  Since many valuable patient forums already exist, I will direct patients to appropriate sites. Wherever pertinent, I will direct readers to my white paper and I will complete additional studies either independently or in collaboration with other researchers and consultants in the domain.[2]

My blog will be designed as an elaborate referral system covering not only appropriate medical referrals, but addressing logistics, finances, taxes, insurance, as well as legal and related psychological issues. The site’s no-fee value proposition will be explained. All services and any advice and counselling will be provided free of charge. If the users are satisfied, they can volunteer a charitable contribution to Foundations set up in Canada and the USA that will direct all the resources collected to support advanced medical service delivery to those less fortunate patients in developing countries. Since I have already advised over six patients to seek out-of-county medical services, I will use their testimonials to add clout and legitimacy to my presence in the area of patient assistance.

(3)    Earned campaign:  My earned campaign will involve several distinctly different foci and content.   In the first instance, I will monitor and strategically participate in the major online patient forums for three major pathologies: heart, cancer and orthopedics (there may be other demands for off-shore medical service, however, a focus on the major pathologies will be more realistic for a start up with limited resources and time limits). In each of the forums, I will have to be careful not to be perceived as having a hidden agenda. In all my participations, I will stress support and advice and let my reputation grow organically. Given that my blog is my name, as I become known, anyone looking for me will find my blog and the services I am offering. Note that since I will have created a non profit foundation(s), any perceived conflict of interest should be immediately neutralized.  I must at the same time expand and deepen my footprint within the professional arena. To this end, I will develop a robust profile and active involvement within LinkedIn. I will expand my CV as it pertains to my experience in the area, identify appropriate professional communities, follow the conversations and identify the thought and action leaders in all the various aspects of the medical tourism industry. Where appropriate, I will provide my insights and expertise as a professional and a former patient who felt the same anxiety who twice sought remediation outside the country. I will immediately translate what I learn in all areas and from all interactions to my patient community. Finally, I will also set up a dashboard for selected Twitter accounts that will include #medical tourism, #cancer treatment, #hip resurfacing and # heart disease cures.  I will listen long enough in each # to determine the tone and direction of conversation and I will then join in and tweet when I am sure that my voice is an authentic addition to the discourse.  Once again I will use knowledge learned on Twitter to enrich my blog. My objective will be to earn the reputation not only as a knowledgeable and helpful individual, but I as someone with no hidden agenda.[3]


Qualitative and Quantitative Measures of Success:  

How will I measure success? Clearly using the Google metrics may be a start and looking at the increase in the traffic may yield a preliminary indication of traction and adhesion. However, it will be insufficient to convey to me what remediations are required to increase my impact and movement in a direction of achieving my project’s objectives. Additional measures will be:

i) Self critique: I will have to set weekly targets for content and platform development and keep records of my progress.  At the end of each quarter, I will have to measure just how consistent I have been in keeping my commitments. (quantitative/qualitative).

ii) Conversation rate:  What is the volume of participants’ comments or replies per post? (quantitative)

iii) Amplification rate:  what is the rate of ‘sharings’ per blog post, ‘retweets’ per tweet, and ‘share’ clicks per video post? (quantitative)

iv) Applause rate: What is the ‘favourite’ clicks per post,’ likes’ per post, ‘1s’ per post etc....(quantitative)

v) Profile augmentation:  How is my general profile and ranking improving on klout, peerindex, postrank and appinions as well as on the various Twitter tools? As my general profile increases, so does my potential to influence my community. It is not necessarily the quantity of measures used but rather that those chosen be used consistently. (qualitative).

vi) Community vibrancy and health: To what extent is the community that I am building providing honest and robust conversations? How many flamers and interlopers are there and is this number growing or decreasing? Are there defenders of the site and its brand and is this number increasing? (qualitative)

vii) Conversation and involvement breadth: Are community members expanding the conversations’ breadth and are members of the community increasing their involvement in dialogues and transforming themselves from requesters of information to providers of information? Are patients remaining active in the community after their pathology has been remediated? Are members asking the broader questions that address the subject on a community/regional/ national/international basis? (qualitative)

viii) Community’s expansion of participation: Are community members becoming involved with the volunteer objectives of the project and are they willing to contribute time and/or resources to expand the viability and sustainability of the site? Am I encouraging volunteerism? (qualitative)

ix) Spill over effects:  Are community members suggesting new media/platforms of communication? Are they willing to instigate migration to these arenas/new communities? Are commercial interests trying to leverage content and/or community members? (qualitative)


[1] For more information on the topic go to my white paper:

[2]  I know that by addressing patients directly, I am picking the lowest of fruit. My objective is limited and is certainly inadequate, given the challenges of helping foment a paradigm shift. I may relieve the pain of a few or even thousands of patients, but nothing else will change. I may have to write a book.  Now that is an ambitious ownership campaign, but it is very effective. I have rarely seen a blog writer interviewed on Jon Stewart. For the time being I will stay ‘light’, using a patient-focused WBSM.

[3]  In time I will have to expand my marketing focus and earn a reputation among the fifthestate, lobby groups, key bureaucrats, andpoliticians exploring ways toinstigate conversations that will ultimately bring the agenda of medical tourism to the fore. It will be my goal to broaden the conversation to ultimately torque the perspective so that we begin to view the term ‘tourism’ as a sub-set of ‘out- sourcing’ and gradually perceive the values of removing the limitations of ‘ autarchic’ delivery systems (this is a Canadian issue, particularly) and explore partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions in other international jurisdictions. It is not common knowledge, for example, that the largest and most advanced cardiac hospital in the world is in Mumbai. Its scale is so much farther beyond our present capacity (1300 beds and 400 procedures per day), its use of a conveyer belt to move patients through operating theatres so challenging to our present protocols, that a shift in perceptions of excellence will be difficult to achieve no matter how crucial it is. Earning a reputation will be key, but that will be the objective of another project.