by Rachel Moore, Social Media and Digital Strategist at Colorado HealthOP

I work in digital communications, which basically means I really enjoy saying things online to reach people’s eyes and leave a mark (hopefully). I also work in the healthcare industry — have done so for going on almost nine years cumulatively. So you can imagine my thrill when the two come together and I get to be a part of it. (More on that in a moment…)

Engagement is Tenacious

The tweets were flying at the Health Symposium under #14CHS.

Patient engagement has often been a somewhat obnoxious suitor to the relationship it tries to have with healthcare. Hospitals, doctors, and the spectrum of caregivers today have often put up a defense against online or offline personal discussions about health as something to be ignored or avoided. Hands have been raised to push back with cries of “HIPAA!” and “patient privacy!” against the need to care about talking to patients about anything other than their blood pressure and medical history within the security of an exam room – particularly if it’s happening using the scary and powerful Internet.

But times have changed. For better or for worse, it’s a whole new world for everyone.

Engagement Is Getting Attention

Last month, I had the insane opportunity to serve as a Social Media Fellow for the 2014 Colorado Health Symposium (organized by the Colorado Health Foundation, hosted in Keystone). I wanted to attend in the past, largely due to my professional needs, but this year was a must-go. For once, and finally, healthcare leaders and influencers were gathering to focus on the Power of Engagement.

Stop. You need to get what this means.

People want to engage with you. Leaders in health are finally recognizing that you are using your mobile device to talk about your life with people you’ve never met. You’re checking in at locations along your way, even including hospitals and clinics. You’re posting reviews of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and even hashtagging your opinions on Twitter. You’re asking communities on message boards about which specialists to see in your area and why.

Engagement Is Personal and In Person

Engaging directly with communities where they are, our Outreach staff are on the move each week around the state.

But this isn’t just occurring online. There’s a power behind neighbors and friends meeting in person to mobilize for change, and that’s happening now. The Symposium speakers highlighted, one after the other, how towns are being impacted by citizens joining forces for better parks. Cities are changing, maybe just here and there at first, to be friendlier for safe walking and biking paths. Neighbors are showing up at legislative meetings to cheerlead for change against food deserts, lack of access to medical care, and health costs which are too high for any family to reasonably bear.

In these discussions, community members are the experts. And whether we’re connecting with a community over lunch at a round table discussion or through a Google chat online, the mission is to engage and empower these community experts. They often know exactly what is needed, or at least have an idea. It’s incumbent upon health leaders and influencers to bring their expert ideas to the table if any change can be effective.

Engagement Is In … For Good

One thing is as certain as the sun rising: engagement is here to stay. Patients are connecting with each other about their health concerns, successes, and challenges. Patients are trying to connect with their health providers, and even if those receptors aren’t listening, someone is. In fact, millions might be in on a conversation which could be exponentially more effective if only healthcare would enter and engage.

Last month, over 6 million were reached just by the tweets posted at the Health Symposium in Keystone. This year, Colorado HealthOP’s Outreach department has visited communities throughout the state to meet with the local experts on their own ground to offer solutions customized for that area. Our insured members can log into their very own Member Portal where they can easily find their health results, procedure cost comparisons, and even articles on health topics they care about. Hospitals, health leaders, and even health insurance providers (like us!) are finally getting it and getting engaged where we should be. Now it’s your turn to pull up to to the table.