An Interview With Paul Levy - President and CEO, Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center


Paul_levy Paul Levy, President and CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and blogger of Running A Hospital Blog is no stranger when it comes to innovation and loving a good challenge. In 2002, when Paul took the helm of the BIDMC the hospital was on verge of being sold by the Commonwealth. In 2004, the medical center reported a $28 million dollar operating surplus.

With the hospital under control, I guess Paul found a few extra seconds. In August of 2006, Paul decided to add blogging to his To Do List and launched Running A Hospital Blog.  In keeping with the mantra of social media (transparency, authenticity, honesty and passion) posts run from patient's customer service concern to his views on social issues to health insurance to asking readers if he got paid too much and even the recipe of Beth Israel's famous chocolate chip cookies.

The healthcare business is fiercely competitive, especially in Boston, a city know for its hospitals and docs. In his post Opening Day Items Paul shows us an out-of-the-box marketing strategy that dovetails into the BIDMC's partnership with the Boston Red Sox. BI Babies are sent home in co-branded baby caps and a certificate for a tour of Fenway Park on birthday number five. 

Bloggy Discloure: I'm a BI bebe and I'm betting if the BI had that in strategy in-place, I would have had a few more siblings! Had to add this comment from Paul -  "And, by the way, all BID babies are above average . . .  Good to know that you are another example of that."

In an email chat Paul explained his views about about blogs and social media in healthcare. I think you'll agree that Paul has indeed taken a sip or two of the kool-aid and hit a home run with Running A Hospital Blog.

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

One of the nation’s preeminent academic medical centers, providing state-of-the-art clinical care, research, and teaching in affiliation with Harvard Medical School.  Licensed for about 600 beds, BIDMC annual clinical and research revenues are in excess of $1 billion.  Overseen by a 20-member Board of Directors and with a staff of over 6,000 FTEs and a medical staff of over 700 physicians in thirteen clinical departments.

Toby/Diva Marketing: It seems as though Running A Hospital Blog is your personal blog versus a “company blog.”

Paul Levy: This a personal blog.  It is not published by the hospital.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Why a personal blog and not a BI/Deaconess Medical Center blog a la Nick Jacobs?
Paul Levy: Dunno.  I'm not sure it matters that much, but if it were an official organ of the hospital, I would probably feel compelled to have all posts reviewed by our General Counsel, press office, and other people inside the hospital.  That would make it hard for me to write and post something at 5am or 10pm, when I do my writing. 

Also, I would probably self-censor much more, knowing that things were going to be reviewed by corporate folks. I think currency and immediacy and spontaneity are important in keeping things interesting.  Also, this way, my staff folks can honestly deny that they have any prior knowledge about what I have written!  By the way, I like Nick's blog a lot.  He seems like a wonderful guy, and they are lucky to have someone with his experience, wisdom, and good humor.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Do you think the hospital will adopt a social media strategy including blogs, blogger relations, etc? If so when? If not why not?

Paul Levy: I''m not sure what it means to have a social media strategy, at least with regard to blogs and blogger relations.  Anyone can start his or her own blog in about 30 seconds.  Why should the hospital be a repository?  If we were, then we would have to have blogging policies!  That seems inherently contradictory to the idea of social media. 

If we did post blogs on our company website, wouldn't we have to make the "space" available to all and then also have to insure that they met standards for honesty, accountability, grammar, spelling, HIPAA, good behavior, and the like?  If you permit all blogs to be posted on the company website without standards, then you are inviting lawsuits. So then I would have to have people enforce the standards. 

Why undemocratize the most democratic form of communication by imposing corporate standards on it when anybody in the company can already create their own site in the outside world?  If it is good enough and interesting enough to attract readers, the word will get around.

We are, however, looking at wikis for a variety of purposes.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Why has blogging been worth your time, energy and resources? What has surprised you about your blogging experience?

Paul Levy: Totally worth it, especially in terms of getting feedback from a wide variety of people throughout the world.  It is like tapping into an incredibly extensive community.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Are ideas and suggestions from comments distributed and/or utilized internally?

Paul Levy: Oh, yes.  I pass along ideas to our folks, and we follow up.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How does your blog fit into Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Marketing/ Community Outreach Strategies.

Paul Levy: This is not the hospital's blog.  Strictly speaking, it is not tied into our business strategies, although I like to think that there is nothing in it that is inconsistent with our strategies.

Toby/Diva Marketing: I noticed that the blog is not linked from the Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center webstite.  Nor is there a direct link from the blog to the BI website. Any plans to do that?

Paul Levy: No, it is not a hospital publication.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Did you have to first gain permission from your board?

Paul Levy: No.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How are you handling HIPPA regulations?

Paul Levy: I follow them!

Toby/Diva Marketing: What were the reactions from your peers?

Paul Levy: Some are very supportive, some are disdainful. Our physicians and nurses and other staff are very, very supportive.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What are your feelings about Sermo? Particularly the inclusion of allowing investment firms to view postings and the possibility of inviting the pharma in?

Paul Levy: I have never read it. I don't look at sites where you have to register.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What will it take for social media to gain acceptance within the healthcare community, to the extent that blogs (and other tactics) are adopted?

Paul Levy: This will happen very slowly. It is not a field that encourages open expressions of feelings or positions.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What would you tell other healthcare organizations and physicians who are considering launching a blog?

Paul Levy: Be prepared for a great adventure.

Sidebar: Thanks to Nick Jacobs for the intro to Paul Levy. Another example of the blogger network.


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Great post :-)

Posted by: Alex on Jul 10, 2007 11:38:37 AM

Great interview. How in the world did he first gain attention for his blog? Maybe I missed this, but I am wondering how he shared the news with potential readers that he had started his blog so that he wouldn't just feel like he was writing for no one.

Posted by: Sandi Solow on Jul 10, 2007 9:04:42 PM

First, I sent an intimate email to my 500 closest friends telling them about the blog and asking them to pass the word.

More effectively, the Boston Globe did a story about it. That really got things going.

Posted by: Paul Levy on Jul 11, 2007 11:08:50 PM

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Posted by: Tom Keesling on Feb 19, 2008 10:00:25 AM

It's been a couple of tough years for many hospitals across the nation. I have spoken with a few hospital administrators recently, many of them told me they had experienced 30 percent decline in revenue last year. So, there is always a great deal to be learned from hospitals and their administrators, who are doing well and prospering in this economy.

Posted by: Nick on Sep 2, 2011 7:01:36 PM

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