Social Computing

How Healthcare Organizations Are Using Social Computing

Friday, February 19, 2016

In my last post, “Can Social Computing Enhance Social Learning in Healthcare?,” we examined social computing technologies used to support social learning in healthcare, specifically looking at the Robert Wood Johnson–funded open experiment called Flip the Clinic. This final post in the three-part series will explore an award-winning platform sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital, OPENPediatrics, and also discuss challenges and opportunities associated with social computing platforms used to extend social learning.

The Genesis of OPENPediatrics 

Watching his son play Call of Duty, a massively popular, multiplayer, modern warfare game, Dr. Jeffrey Burns had a realization that would inspire the medical education innovation known as OPENPediatrics. Call of Duty, like countless other immersive, multiplayer games, provides an example of the power of social computing to bring together people from all over the world. Though players usually play for entertainment, they engage in real teamwork by interacting through audio and their respective characters to accomplish planned missions. Observing his son play, Burns recognized the power of social computing in bridging geographic boundaries and facilitating collaboration and problem solving.

Later, Burns was asked to provide a consult for an American pediatric patient vacationing in Guatemala. He did so online with physicians in Guatemala to teach techniques that had worked with similar cases at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he serves as chief of critical care medicine. Frustrated by the technical challenges experienced during the video exchange and recalling his insight from watching his son play Call of Duty, Burns wondered whether similar technology could provide a more robust way to disseminate medical education and best practices globally.

After multiple years of testing his theory, and in collaboration with a number of partners including IBM, Burns and his team officially launched in April 2014.

OPENPediatrics Today

Today, OPENPediatrics provides a reliable, open-access platform for making life-saving best practices available on demand. It also provides a social network to support active learning and collaboration among clinicians and is now used in 132 countries across six continents.

OPENPediatrics’ director of operations, Steve Carson, says that “ has been purposefully designed to promote and support community first, rather than taking a content-centric approach like a traditional massive open online class.”


For example, the site’s World Shared Practice Forums are monthly discussion-based videos with international clinical experts that allow clinicians around the world to exchange best practices. In a forum video from January 2016, “Septic Shock, Ventricular Dysfunction, and Hemodynamic Monitoring: Where Are We Now?,” physicians in India, Qatar, and the United States discuss key elements related to septic shock, an unlikely scenario without a platform like OPENPediatrics.

Carson notes that the OPENPediatrics team is actively improving functionality to extend collaboration and interactive capability, citing the Ventilator Simulator as an example. The Ventilator Simulator gamifies mechanical ventilator protocol education, allowing users to work through progressively difficult, interactive stages to test their knowledge and skills using a simulated ventilator. The simulation culminates in nine immersive bedside experiences, in which users treat an entire two- to five-day patient admission in a 30-minute simulation.

How Healthcare Organizations Can Use Social Computing

If the popularity of OPENPediatrics is any indication, we can expect increasing adoption of social computing technologies. While this is a good thing, many competing platforms may result in fragmentation and information silos. When it comes to knowledge management, healthcare in particular lags behind other industries. And without a comprehensive knowledge management strategy, these organizations will invariably perpetuate information silos with the adoption of social computing technologies.

Before implementing a new social computing tool in your organization, identify whether a broader organizational knowledge management strategy exists and where your proposed solution may fit. If one doesn’t, form a committee to better understand your organization’s strategic knowledge and learning needs before adopting a new technology.

Multiple platforms, particularly internally facing ones, also can result in competition for buy-in, utilization, and engagement. That’s why it’s important to conduct a comprehensive needs analysis across key stakeholder groups before implementing a platform. Identify other planned or in-use platforms that may compete for resources and users, and think through integration needs with other platforms such as learning management systems, document sharing systems, and content management systems.

Finally, social computing technologies that aren’t anchored by a strong community will create digital ghost towns. Wherever possible, create opportunities for members to meet in person, such as Flip the Clinic’s in-person labs. Similarly, look for natural offline social networks that can seed online interaction. Identify ways users can interact both online and offline, and create connections between the two. You also can integrate opportunities to interact in real time (or almost real time); for example, the way OPENPediatrics embeds discussion within their World Practice Forum videos.

An exhaustive analysis of planning and implementation best practices for social computing adoption in healthcare is outside of the scope of this post. However, in the comments, please share what’s working and what’s not in your organization. Where do you think social computing and social learning are headed in healthcare?

About the Author
Jackie Lebihan is a writer, healthcare researcher, social entrepreneur, and consultant. She enjoys studying and writing about health care, with a particular interest in learning and performance issues in the health professions. Jackie recently served as a director for the Integrated Care Leadership Network (ICLN), a nonprofit with a mission to build capacity for improving care across the healthcare continuum through innovative learning exchanges and targeted training. She also helped launch an innovative social learning enabled platform, MyWikiCare, to support learning and online collaboration between healthcare professionals, faculty, and students. Jackie consults with healthcare organizations around strategy, design, and implementation of education and learning initiatives to improve organizational capacity for transformational change. She received her Masters of Science in Health Administration and Interprofessional Leadership from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she also served as a teaching assistant to the program. Follow her on Twitter at @LebihanJ where she shares news and ideas about the intersection of healthcare, education, and technology.
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