Toronto firm starts health-focused social media contest

Canadian hospitals and medical centres now have an incentive to build or enhance their social media programs.

Toronto-based IT services firm B Sharp Technologies Inc. is asking health care organizations to submit an essay describing how a cash reward will help them support a planned or existing social media strategy. The top price for the B Social Program will receive $2,500 in cash, with runner-ups expected to receive a “Flip-style” camera to help them create online videos.

Michael Martineau, an e-health blogger and consultant who currently operates as vice-president of sales and marketing at B Sharp, said providing cash and prize incentives to health care firms looking to do more with social media hits a key pain point for many medical centres and hospitals. He said the contest will favour applicants that are looking to use social media to assist in the delivery of care as opposed to the promotion of their individual organization.

“We’ll pick the ones that have the best potential to move forward with the extra money or equipment,” he said, adding that the goal of the project is to help health organizations reach both youth and parents through social channels.

The program will run twice a year, with applications for the spring award being accepted until June 8, 2011. A fall program will take place during October.

Ann Fuller, director of communications at the Ottawa-based Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, is one of the six judges tasked with reviewing the B Social applicants. She also tracks the use of social media technologies by Canadian health organizations through her blog.

“We tend to work with minimal budgets for new types of initiatives,” she said. “This helps provide small, but significant financial aid (for hospitals).”

In her work tracking social media use across the country, she has identified 261 different hospitals that are using Twitter, Facebook or YouTube to communication with their patients.

Fuller hopes programs such as the B Sharp initiative compel more health facilities to tap into social media communications for health education and clinical care.

“We have a doctor that has done a really interesting use case on YouTube for clinical diagnosis of infantile spasms,” she said. The physician culled through all of the different videos depicting the seizure and is working on creating a tool that would allow doctors to log on and rate videos based on their appropriateness as a clinical example.

“If parents are trying to describe it to you, it’s hard to tell from a description whether it’s an infantile spasm,” she said. “Parents can weed through the videos with their doctors.”

Using social media sites like Twitter for general health questions or help advice is also to be encouraged, Fuller said. Password protected discussion forums could be utilized in cases where more detailed communication is needed.

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