Social networking: 'A game changer'

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Online social networking has a huge impact on society, but for the ill or disabled, the impact is far greater, says Mike Mallaro, CFO of The VGM Group. Sites like CaringBridge, CareFlash and Disaboom enable communication between friends and loved ones during a health crisis, or provide a regular online community that removes access barriers for the disabled. Providers can sponsor a site for a patient and get their name out to a broader group of people, he says.

HME News: Do providers need to be aware of social networking?

Mike Mallaro: This is a game changer. It's changing society and it's going to change health care. Those people are there and you'd better be paying attention to it because somebody is going to figure out how to reach those people and touch those patients.

HME: Can you give an idea of how widespread health-related social networking is?

Mallaro: We looked up spinal cord injury and all the interest groups that are somehow related to spinal cord injury. We found 73 groups and 30,000 people. That doesn't mean there are 30,000 victims of spinal cord injury, but a lot of caregivers, family and friends, too. That's a lot of people.

HME: So a provider sponsors a patient's page on a social networking site. What does that give them in return?

Mallaro: The average person has 120 (online) connections. If those 120 people log on once a week or a month to check the status of that person, that's a lot of people that are directly affected by spinal cord injury that are seeing your message. These are people seeing it when they are thinking about a special person confined to a wheelchair. For the money providers are going to spend--which is virtually nothing--they can't get that kind of advertising.

HME: Can providers leverage this with referral sources?

Mallaro: It's a good conversation to have with the referral source and it's a good differentiator. It's important to the patient and it shows the provider is involved with the patient and concerned with cutting edge patient care.

HME: How can a provider decide  to sponsor a particular site?

Mallaro: They should look at the different specialty sites and decide if there's one that they think fits best. There's lots of good ones and new ones coming up all the time. Find one you feel comfortable with and think is a good one to recommend to people.