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Forget paper documents and telephone calls—healthcare organizations are using Web 2.0 technology to foster a more efficient form of employee communication.

Meetings. Memos. Rumor mills. All are effective ways to exchange information—but they are so 20th century.

The healthcare industry regularly gets blasted for being slow to adopt information technology, but it’s no laggard when it comes to Web 2.0. The term refers to the so-called second generation of Web-based communities; healthcare leaders are using the technology to help members of their organizations collaborate, both internally and externally, in ways that were unthinkable before the Internet.

Here are some ways Web 2.0 works in healthcare.

Share with siblings

Catholic Health Initiatives, the nation’s second-largest Catholic healthcare system with more than 70 hospitals in 19 states, encourages its staffers to participate in “knowledge communities” that allow them to share information with their peers at sister hospitals. More than 45 peer communities connect electronically—and in person—to exchange ideas, benchmark their performance against one another and undertake initiatives.

In some cases, peers had found one another and developed information-sharing strategies before the CHI intranet was available to help. Many of the groups meet face-to-face at least once a year; the online collaboration platform keeps them connected.

Wiki this

When The Joint Commission in June launched WikiHealthCare, a pilot effort to encourage online information exchange, more than 500 quality improvement aficionados registered in just two days.

The Web site is designed to allow anyone—from nurses to researchers to CEOs—interested in healthcare quality to share information, network with peers and collaborate on new performance improvement strategies.

“This seems like a good way to tap into tens of thousands of healthcare professionals and their knowledge base,” says Scott Williams, PsyD, associate director in the commission’s division of quality measurement and research.

Williams hopes the site will become a “collaborative network” in which users feel comfortable to honestly describe their own QI successes and challenges. “We recognize there are a lot of evidence-based solutions and not every solution works for everybody,” he says. “This is our attempt to give people a forum to discuss their own experience.”

The first topics on tap were smoking-cessation counseling programs and smoke-free hospital campuses. During the pilot phase, Williams is evaluating how much effort is required to maintain the site, what and when new topics should be added—and whether the level of participation makes the Wiki-effort worthwhile.

“The real key is: Once they are registered, do they do something?” he says.

Stop complaining and start blogging

When Alegent Health in Omaha introduced a consumer-directed health plan for its 8,500 workers in 2005, skeptics inevitably surfaced. But instead of muttering around the water cooler, naysayers of the new plan design were asked to put their opinions in writing on an internal Web log.

The goal of the blog was to quickly address any misconceptions or actual shortcomings in the new plan. Top executives, including the chief executive officer, responded to employee postings within 24 hours. Alegent then recruited both foes and fans of the consumer-directed plan to serve on an employee panel.

“We had them journal their experiences for a period of time, which really helped develop the plan and helped us give ideas to other employees on how to be good consumers,” says David Burrack, Alegent’s operations leader.

The upshot: 78 percent of Alegent’s workers signed on to the high-deductible plan in its first year, and 89 percent in the second.

—Lola Butcher