Mark Trahant is a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. He is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Comment here.
Let’s start with a bit of context. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Indian Health Service have an extensive process for tribal consultation. There is a formula for listening to tribal leaders about its operation, priorities and budgets. There’s also an open line for internal IHS reform. The IHS collects data about best practices, ranging from treatments for cardiovascular disease to partnerships with traditional healers. This is a simple, but important, way to share ideas about programs or treatments that work.
So the context is that the Indian Health Service has an extensive practice collecting information – complaints – from tribal and community leaders. In general the Indian Health Service does a better job of listening to its constituents than most health care agencies. But that system was designed for another time.
So back to the question: How does a health agency listen to patient complaints in the era of social media? Each unit, clinic or hospital has a formal process, but most complaints aren’t filed, they are spoken between family members or said in the waiting room? How does a modern health care agency learn from those?
This is where the new world of social media kicks in. Patients are contributing thousands of bits of information on Facebook in a group called, “I just spent 6 hours at IHS just for them to give me Tylenol.”