Health Is Social: A Brief Explanation of What Phil Baumann Does

Health is social. Not media.

When I started Health Is Social, one of my aims was to bring a mash-up of disparite elements of style, philosophy, nursing, humor, grief, and green knives to the public discussions on Healthcare and Technology. (What’s a green knife? Listen here after the post if the above embed doesn’t work.)

At the time, Social Media in Healthcare  was still a nacent topic. So it was natural for me to pick-apart the predominate views on Social Media (SoMe) – views which I considered superficial, mimetic, nauseatingly repetitive, and downright misleading. The superficiality was especially disturbing.

The funny things is: “Health Is Social” wasn’t about SoMe. No. Quite the contrary: it was about propounding ideas that call us back from a technologic-centric view of Health and Healthcare to a human perspective.

Yes, “Health Is Social” included “Healthcare Social Media”. In the prior years, I had started the first clinical chat on Twitter. (I am proud that of all the Healthcare professions, it was Nursing that got that “prize”. Sadly, physicians were behind, so I started the first chat for physicians. I mention this in case you think I’m a Luddite – no: others should have started these chats. Why didn’t they? Perhaps they’re the Luddites. Just sayin’ 😉

But what I’ve been doing with Health Is Social has been lost on some readers: I invert styles in ways that confuse. For instance, I’ve written posts that seem serious, and yet are utterly sarcastic. Why? Because I felt it was important to point out some of the narrow-thinking ways of the social media “gurus” – and this narcissistic-superficial way of thinking has infiltrated Healthcare.

Examples of such weird behaviors include:

  • Repeating the matras: “Social Media is revolutionary” – “It’s all about conversation.”
  • Failures to acknowledge the need for HCPs to fully understand the pitfalls of using SoMe: not just from their own professional standing, but also the harm they may cause patients.
  • Superficiality in appreciating the Iceberg of SoMe (the tip is deceptively simple)
  • Embarrassing self-promotion – Much of my “schitck” on Twitter is a way to illustrate to followers how weird self-promotion looks. Much of what I saw what was ultimately narcissistic and addictive behavior (and yes, these media do lead to addiction, but that’s a whole other topic).
  • Healthcare Marketing ideas in the context of SoMe seemed to be uninformed by experience – and, again, seemed superficial and imitative of a lot of the popular online personalities who got lucky with Technorati back in the day.
  • Sycophantic behavior – too many clicks had started to form, and many important voices were being drowned-out by the loud chirping from those whose voices were probably the last to hear. If at all.

In my head, the list went on.

Now, this is all the ‘negative’ side of Health Is Social (trying to wake people up from the ‘dopery’ so common on social networks). That is, a counter-weight was needed. And you know what? People subscribed and shared and loved what I was doing. Yes, loved. That doesn’t happen much online, and I’m every grateful to those who engaged me via email and Skype and AFK (Away from the Keyboard, aks IRL).

The “postive” side? Well, that was about waking people up to the promises of technologies within the context of very human ways of processing the world.

It’s important for us to be passionate – truly passionate – about speaking our minds.

Do you want to know why Healthcare is so messed up in our country? It’s because nobody is angry enough (in a good way). We’ve been sitting back and accepting things without question.

It’s unacceptable to have uncritical thinking in Healthcare. As we march deeper into the 21st Century – a Century of economic, cultural, political, technological tumult), we need to take time-outs to THINK before we act. Let’s not just do things because others are doing them or just to feel like we’re doing something.

If you look at all the Revolutions of the last several hundred years, they all started out as utopias and ended in catastrophe. If only a little more thinking were done, perhaps we wouldn’t have had gulags, and concentration camps, and domestic violence. That’s an exaggerated reference in this context, but the mechanics are the same.

Social Media is not ‘revolutionary’. People are.

Social Media is not healthy. Wisdom is.

Social Media is not poetry. Poets are.

Social Media is not social. A playground is.

Play more. Tweet less.

[For an accompanying sound version of this post, listen here.]

Phil Baumann





Any Sufficiently Advanced Healthcare Technology Is Indistinguishable from Natural Healing

Riffing on Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – I offer one ‘law’ for Healthcare Technology:

Any sufficiently advanced Healthcare technology is *indistinguishable* from natural healing.

Think about this.

When you take technology to its ultimate end-point – in terms of what it is we want the technology to do – we aught to *want* the care to either be natural healing or indistinguishable from it.

This requires a different kind of thinking about what health care aught to be.

This perspective does *not* mean abandoning technology. No, not at all. It means that our technologies must become so seamlessly woven into your natural origins that we return healing to its true home.

We have become accustomed to certain ways of doing things and of thinking about problems and their solutions.

Technology permeates health care – and for good reasons.

But: we must never forget the original purposes of medicine and nursing and other processes: to heal.

“Heal” is rooted in “whole”.

As the ancient Romans would say:

Naturam expellas furca, tammen usque recurret.


Fed Up with Healthcare Fiascos? Don’t Put Up with Them!

I think too many Americans put up with bureaucratic friction in Healthcare. It’s as if the industry has conditioned tens on millions of people to sit in the proverbial waiting room like obedient dogs.

It’s not just patients. Healthcare providers have been conditioned as well.

We human beings have a remarkable strength: an ability to learn and accommodate.

We human beings have a remarkable weakness: an ability to learn and accomodate.

“Well, this is just how things have always been done. If we didn’t do it this way, xyz will happen.”

Case in point:

I recently had to get a diagnostic procedure done for someone (not something life-threatening, but important). I showed up at the facility after being told by the provider that it would be speedy – and you know what? Just as we walked in, they were shutting down the office for the day and told me to come back the next week.

Frustrated, I turned away and just as I was about to leave I said to myself “F8ck this sh&t, s/he needs this procedure done now and it’s gonna get done”.

I went back to the receptionist and explored all of the options – “you’ve got an ER in the adjacent hospital, right?” “Yes.” “And the ER has access to [diagnostic asset], right?” “Of course.” “Well, h/she needs this done – biology doesn’t care about hours of operation, so let’s call over to the ER while you process this normally, and everybody gets happy. Sound reasonable?”

She agreed and took the extra few minutes beyond her paid time to process the registration and arrange for ER admin to handle.

Things went well. We waited a bit more of course, but it wasn’t too bad. H/she got the diagnostic procedure done.

I know things don’t go down as smoothly as this, but you must not just walk about and assent to the Healthcare bureaucrats.

It always bothered me that hospital-related “offices” had “office hours”. As a nurse who has worked twelve-sixteen hours without pee-breaks, lifting 500 pound patients and switching from day to night shift and back again, I have no tolerance for “office hours” in Healthcare. It’s unprofessional – in fact, it can be downright dangerous. And it is dangerous.

“Well, sir, you should have had your heart attack at 10am. We’ll be happy to draw those troponins when the office opens at 8:30am tomorrow.”…

…”Oh, and be sure to bring your ID and insurance card, and plan to arrive 15 minutes early to fill out the paperwork. Thank you. Have a nice day!”

Don’t put up with it.

Don’t put up with it.

Don’t put up with it.

Biology doesn’t care for office hours nor hospital forms nor dopey human rules.

Nor should you.

The Ancient Romans would have burned down the whole barbaric system decades ago.


How Are You?

How are you?

This is the most important question in health care to ask.

Three words. A ton of purposes.

Every clinician should ask this.

It says you care.

It gives permission to the person you care for to open up.

It sets the tone for partnership.

It gives you the chance (and responsibility) to listen attentively.

It’s the most social act in the world.

It leads to better care.

So, how are you?

Phil Baumann



Pedagogical Osmosis Between Nurses and Physicians

There is going to have to be more pedagogical osmosis between nurses and physicians.

What is “pedagogical osmosis”?

Just a fancy phrase for redesigning medical and nursing education.

Nurses need to have more education about the sciences and ways of thinking undermining medical knowledge and practice.

Physicians need to have a more profound understanding of healthcare communications, people-skills and a patient-centric appreciation for how needles, tests and bad news feel.

The Crimean War ended a longtime ago.

Sadly, the military-industrial frame-of-mind it engendered in healthcare persists in today’s academic and practicing institutions.

It’s not easy to unthink entrenched patterns that cause the wrong behaviors.

But it needs to be done.

Phil Baumann

The Theory and Practice of Healthcare

The Theory starts with a guess. The brain.

Then there’s a test.

Then there’s a conclusion.

If the guess is wrong, then…it’s…wrong.

If the test can’t say that it’s wrong, then you (might) have a theory.

This applies as much to EMRs or social media as it does to renal tubular acidosis.

The Practice starts with a touch. The hand.

Then there’s a response.

Then there’s a relationship.

If the relationship is bad, then…it’s…bad.

If the relationship is good, then you (might) have a practice.

Here’s a problem:

You can’t afford to make a lot of bad guesses nor bad touches when working with health.

This is why you cannot have good theory and practice with uncritical brains and nervous hands.

You must always hand your theory to a practicing brain.

This is called care.

Art is what happens as you master The Care.

Phil Baumann




Healthcare Is A Story

In The Story, I argued that the Story is both the foundation and capstone of civilization. I also made the case at #epatcon in my Pecha Kucha (starts at 13:00).

What I’m getting at is that everything in Healthcare – the people, the technology, the expertise, the experiences – are all interweaving of stories.

An electronic medical record is part of the story.

An ACCU-CHEK is part of the story.

A pill is part of the story.

A mobile application is part of the story.

A birth, a life, a death – all stories.

We have a narrow conception of the Story.

What we call Care is the active listening to stories – Is she in pain? Do I need to run an EKG for more to the story? 

Right now, I am telling you the story of the Story.

Are you listening?

Phil Baumann


Overdoing Healthcare

One day a few years ago a patient was wheeled into a unit post-procedure.

Her breathing was labored as she wriggled her limbs. Her blood pressure and other signs indicated she was in hypertensive crisis.

The residents and other other staff surrounded her working hard to figure out the problem. Antihypertensives were ordered.

Still no resolution. Then more talk and more work and more drugs.

A lot of energy and stress were being expended to resolve her hypertensive crisis.

When one of the nurses came over to help s/he noticed one little fact: the patient wasn’t loaded up with enough pain medication.


A very simple problem that explains all the above.

When you look around at all of the work being done in Healthcare – efforts in HIT, payment reform, etc. – how much is hard work solving the wrong problems?

It’s easy to overdo Healthcare when you don’t undertand what’s going on with the patient.

Phil Baumann



Mimicry as Innovation

We all want innovation in Healthcare.

Innovation in medical devices.

Innovation in reimbursement.

Innovation in mobile applications.

Innovation in clinical collaboration.

Yes, innovation is needed.

Not always though.

Mimicry has its powers to change the world too.

Easy to forget the great things that work eternally.

Mimicry of expert nursing.

Mimicry of clear communications.

Mimicry of proper hand-washing technique.

Mimicry of of biological processes.

Mimicry of moral leadership.

We all need mimicry in Healthcare.

In a time when the horizon of technological emergence brightens, it’s easy for good mimicry to fall into the shadows.

Mimicry can be just as innovative as innovation.

Phil Baumann