If you ask someone who works in digital media what the concepts that feed their work, it is you’re likely to receive a wide array of answers.

But, two core values functions are always in play — storytelling and utility.

When I first started to write about health care, the focus was on policy. How do those who work with digital media in the health care field comply with laws and establish ethical policy within those laws?

That, as it was, was the wrong question to have in mind. Luckily, my question came out as, “What aspects of your social media policy do you believe are essential and applicable across the health care industry?”

That question, and a subsequent line of questioning, led me to a realization that digital media in the health care industry isn’t about conforming to a single policy for safety’s sake and remaining lawful. Patient privacy and compliance is the precursor for the stories and the tools that those in the health care industry provide through digital media.

My first conversation about digital media in the health care field was with Jacque from Hudgins Orthodontics. As a business which focuses on youth services, it has had to adapt quickly and frequently to digital media. Luckily for them, Dr. Joseph Hudgins already had a patient release policy in place. The lesson from this is a simple one — don’t reinvent the wheel. If you have a patient release form or other media policies in place, don’t try to create something new. Adapt your current policy to the digital media you’re using and you’ll have more time to tell stories and provide resources to current and prospective patients.

Hudgins Orthodontics started telling the stories of its patients in a very uniform way. Patients who had work completed and were elated to have a new smile — and wanted to show it off. For this reason, Jacque and her crew set up a picture wall to keep their content consistent. With each new smile comes the same message — this is where smiles happen.

Then something began to change. Recently, the folks at Hudgins Orthodontics have recognized the willingness and excitement of its younger patients to share their smiles with their peers. Now that the folks there have noticed this trend, they are encouraging patients to share their smiles wherever and whenever they feel so inclined. By continuing to encourage this behavior, Jacque and her crew are not only encouraging young folks to participate in self-esteem building exercises, but giving the smiles that happen there more miles to shine.

Hudgins Orthodontics' work is an applicable model for single-location providers. To some extent, its work is scalable, but as digital media scales to the needs of networks and larger providers such as hospitals, the operations change a bit.

To get a better understanding of those needs, I reached out to SIH’s digital media coordinator, Jennifer VanBrooker.

I’m always excited to talk to people who work in digital media, but to talk with someone who understands as much about digital media as VanBrooker does is an absolutely treat for an industry guy like myself. To start with, the American Hospital Association has a marketing group, and within that marketing group operates a digital taskforce. Jennifer sits on that task force because she understands the long-term implications of quality digital media.

While storytelling is important for SIH’s overall media portfolio, it is not the only focus. The use of digital media, whether as a two-way street for receiving communication from patients or as an informational and directional tool for those researching their health care needs, SIH achieves its goals by providing use to its patients through digital media.

One example of this utility VanBrooker provided came from their Birthing Center. They are using digital media and live video to provide greater access to the utility of their birthing support groups. As Jennifer put it, “It’s a virtual support group,” and for expecting mothers, it means they can receive part of the support they need within their schedules. While it is not a complete supplement for live support groups, the amplification of reach can provide a draw to mothers who may not have otherwise accessed these systems of assistance and support."

SIH didn’t always operate this way, however.

When SIH started blogging, it was taking news releases and posting them on the internet. When it realized that what worked in traditional media does not necessarily work for digital media, they began providing information in a more conversational manner, organizing information in direct-to-patient formats that would be most comprehensible by their patients.

As this has become its operable format for digital media, it has had to rely on their hospital network more and more for assistance. From patient relations, to practicing providers, the SIH marketing team has grown from a messenger wing to a mission driver.

Taking what I learned from VanBrooker and Jacque and combining it with what I came into these conversations knowing, I can confidently assure you that the use of storytelling and utility of digital media to drive your health care mission. You’ll be amazed at how that mission evolves when you do.

Nathan Colombo is a Carbondale native, stand-up comedian, and marketing professional. His small business, Brand Advocacy Group, Inc, provides digital media services for other small, local businesses in and around Southern Illinois.

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