Blogging should be a core responsibility of a CEO

by David Spark on June 16, 2009

Paul Levy is the CEO and President of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and author of the blog, “Running a Hospital.”

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Summary of my interview with Paul Levy:

  • Paul Levy knew nothing about health care, medicine, or running a hospital, yet he still found it fascinating. So he decided to start writing a blog.
  • Paul Levy posts real time data of operations at BIDMC to brag about their success, but also to expose issues that need improvement.
  • Blogging has inspiring clinicians to do better because they know their results will be seen by the public.
  • Blogging should be a core part of a CEO’s duties to promote his/her organization.

Listen to or download my interview with Paul Levy [17:50 m].

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Full Paul Levy Article:

Paul Levy is the CEO and President of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, Massachusetts, which also happens to be the hospital where my father, Dr. Richard F. Spark has worked for more than 40 years as an endocrinologist. Levy has made a name for himself and his hospital by being very proactive in social media and authoring a blog entitled, “Running a Hospital,” where he talks about improving the operations at the BIDMC, reducing errors, keeping people healthy, and the overall state of health care in the United States.

Paul Levy, CEO Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Paul Levy, CEO Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

No experience? No problem. Just expose what you learn.

When Levy came on as CEO of the BIDMC, he had no previous experience running a hospital although his previous jobs (the state’s water and sewage system, Mass Water Resource Authority (MWRA), and the Boston Harbor Cleanup) did involve health issues.

Even though he knew nothing about health care or medicine, Levy found it rather fascinating and thought others might think so as well. So he decided to just start writing the blog. He didn’t ask anyone for permission. “It was the usual narcissistic approach to starting a blog. You think you have something interesting for the world to read and then you wonder if anybody’s going to show up and read it,” said Levy.

When Levy started there was surprisingly very little information out there about running a hospital. He went out of his way to post real time data about the BIDMC. In multiple cases, Levy’s written about issues of infections and hand washing. It became a very hotly contested topic and in some cases Levy had to admit that the hospital wasn’t doing the best job it could, but he talked about it openly and he spelled out what the hospital was doing to improve the issue.

“Part of the exposing was bragging about what we were doing,” said Levy, “I think most people in the hospital felt some pride in the fact that I was writing about that. I think it made a number of people a little bit nervous that I was publicizing things that normally aren’t talked about. But there is an underlying ethic to the BIDMC that people really want to improve the quality of care that we give and other hospitals give. And to the extent that stories about how we’re trying to do that are made public and might help the industry and the like, I think we’re well received.”

Public blogging actually inspiring clinicians

When asked if the blog is making a difference at the hospital, Levy definitely has seen evidence. With regard to issues of central line infections and ventilator related pneumonia, Levy said he saw internal emails where clinicians were reminding themselves that Levy would be posting their numbers. “They were already trying pretty hard to do well, [the blog gave] them the initial impetus to do better because the numbers would be there for the world to see. So I think those kinds of transparencies has its value in terms of creating or establishing a kind of creative tension for an organization to help it do better. So I think it makes a difference in that regard,” Levy said.

Blogging should be part of a CEO’s promotional duties

Levy is a very active blogger, writing one to two posts every day. Some of those posts have to do with the Red Sox (Fenway Park is just a few blocks from the BIDMC), but most have to do with the hospital. The writing of the posts is not what takes the time. The real time sink, said Levy, is keeping up with other people’s blogs which is really the same kind of research and time he would spend reading medical trade journals.

When I asked Levy about balancing his CEO duties with blogging, he didn’t think there shouldn’t be a distinction between the two. “If one of your jobs as CEO of an organization is to represent that organization before the public. With traditional venues being newspapers, speeches, lectures, and the like. Then use of social media is a logical extension of that corporate responsibility of the CEO. The outreach potential is excellent plus you can express your point of view not being filtered by reporters, or editors, or whatever,” Levy said.

Getting caught making a blogging faux pas

Levy, like other social media superstars, didn’t achieve success without making a few mistakes along the way. He admits to making the error of pasting an article, in whole, on his blog. A journalist caught the mistake and chided him for copyright infringement. He quickly corrected the error by amending the post and just pasting in excerpts which he realized made the post a lot more interesting as well.

With the continuing popularity of his blog, Levy realizes that there are a lot of people out there who are hungry and thirsty for ideas on how to improve the health care system. While he’s worked in public service before, Levy said running a hospital is the ultimate public service organization. Talking publicly about operations is one service he’s happy to provide his community and his hospital.

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