3rd December 2012 

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My new hashtag

News and Comment from Roy Lilley

Regular readers will be familiar with my love-hate relationship with British Airways. Something always goes wrong. I hate it; the incessant safety announcements, the ludicrous pilots who tell us we will be 'looked after by the fabulous Fiona, or the wonderful William'. You're not 'looked after'. It is about as much as wonderful Willy can do to give you a cup of scalding coffee and an inedible thing in a plastic bag.

Thursday was no better. I travelled to the excellent Innovations NE Awards, Newcastle; real people doing real innovation that really works.  (@ProfSteveField please note). Anyway, I turned up at Heathrow, trooped onto the plane and then we were all shuffled off. There was something wrong with it. Wait an hour whilst they 'find another one'.

I was dreading the flight back.  Friday morning, at the airport, I was astonished by the queues. Half of Newcastle on the move and only four of the eight scanner/security thingamabob gates were staffed. I unleashed my frustration on Twitter using the hashtag #newcastleairport. My usual Twitterati were abed. Lady GaGa probably still had her curlers in and Mellow-Johnny was undoubtedly in his silk dressing gown, tapping his lightly boiled. So, imagine my surprise; I got an immediate response from @nclairport asking what the problem was? I had to admit I was flabbergasted.  In seconds they came back with a promise to sort it and an apology. Wow!

The power of social media! There has been a lot of NHS caution about social media. A hospital with a FaceBook page is not 'social media'. A practice with a web site is not 'social media'. DH posting videos on their web-site knowing full well that paranoid Trust IT departments block them is stupid media (Wake up DH IT bod, pleeeeeease).

Some organisations think a Twitter account is a management bugle, an extension of the house news-letter or an advert in a magazine. It's not. Corporate Twitter (and I include the NHS) can be a notice board but more, it is about opening up a channel to listen. Newcastle Airport understands this. Early on a Friday morning they were listening.  More importantly, they were on the case, ready, organised, sorted and definitely Wow!

How about the NHS? Sort out your organisation's #hashtag and put it on the wall in the lavatories and say; 'If this place is clean, Tweet it. If it's not Twitter about it, here's our #hashtag. If the practice waiting room isn't up to much, if the receptionist was fabulous or off-hand, if the doc' was happy or humpy, #hashtag. If the experience on the ward wasn't right Tweet it at #hashtag. If it was great; #hashtag.

Yes, yes, I know; not everyone has a smartphone. But a lot of people do and there are 10m Twitter users in the UK.  Nursing has a huge community of users.  There is seldom a silver bullet to fix problems but this can be part of a silver buckshot solution to real time knowledge of what the punters see, experience and think.

The trick to making this work is for the most senior people in the organisation to monitor their #hashtag. They don't have to reply, that's the job of the organisation's fixer (Every place should have one). But it is the job of the organisation's bosses to be across what is happening and they can be - in real time.  A couple of complaints about the same smelly bog warrants a personal visit. A Twitter pic of an inedible meal deserves a personal look. A compliment deserves a pat on the back.

If we really are serious about 'engaging with the patient' (which, in English, means listening to the customers who, through their taxes pay for all this) then we really have to make it easy for them to tell us.

I have to stop now. I'm writing this on the BA flight back to London and we are about to land. Guess what? We are early!


PS: I spoke too soon!  On landing we went to Terminal 5 International area where we didn't fit onto the passenger bridge.  They ordered steps on a lorry. The first lot didn't work - the battery was flat. We were driven by coach to domestic arrivals. In total it took 45 minutes. BA blamed ground handling, they blamed air traffic control, they blamed BA for being early.   Fragmented passenger pathways are as foolish as fragmented patient pathways.  They can't be integrated.  #fragmentedservicescan'tbeintegrated... my new #hashtag.



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