Why we need to embrace social media feedback

In his former role as CEO of Eastern Health, Alan Lilly overhauled how the health service handled patient feedback on social media. Three months in to his new role as CEO of BlueCross community and residential services, Alan shares his views with Inside Ageing.

I was really pleased to see BlueCross praised recently for its social media presence on FaceBook. I am excited about extending our presence onto Twitter and also using other social media and online platforms to encourage communication and feedback from residents, clients and their families. With all that great work going on, why not let everyone know about it? It’s all about our culture, our brand and our reputation at work.

But I do sense some reluctance in the aged care sector to do this. In my experience, the more feedback received and managed closer to real-time, leads not only to timely resolution of issues but higher levels of satisfaction too. However, using social media and online platforms to communicate feedback requires a shift in thinking on response times.

Alan Lilly, BlueCross CEO
Alan Lilly, BlueCross CEO

In my last role as Chief Executive at Eastern Health in Victoria, patients could provide feedback via our standard feedback mechanisms and we regularly received feedback on FaceBook and from time to time, on Twitter too. Eastern Health was also the most prolific user of the Patient Opinion platform in Australia and we always responded within 24 hours. Just being heard was often the key to resolving some of the most complex (or potentially complex) complaints and dissemination of information to staff, managers and executives was just so quick and easy. There’s a partner site, Care Opinion and I am going to be taking a closer look at that now.

I have found that one of the greatest hurdles in getting the best value out of social media and online platforms is the acceptance that the feedback is real. As people working in the health and aged care sectors – who are so committed to always doing and ensuring the best possible care – we sometimes struggle to accept that perhaps we can or need to do things better and even more, that patients or residents might just know more about their experience than we do! I have even read response letters to complaints where the organisation was so audacious to suggest to the patient that the experience they had was not their experience at all! Again, we always need to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes.

With Patient Opinion, I loved the simplicity with which the feedback can be provided and we always respond within 24 hours of receiving a new story. This is really important as it’s the first sign to the story-teller that we are taking their feedback seriously. And when we did respond, we didn’t have to know all the details or all the answers; we just needed to let storytellers know that we were listening. I also say to staff that if we question the feedback when things can be improved, then we shouldn’t so willingly accept the feedback when things go well. I also suggest that unless any of us have passed the “welcome to perfection” sign, then all feedback is welcome!

As a result of using the Patient Opinion feedback, we made so many changes that I can honestly say we would never have done in the normal course of business as in many cases, we simply didn’t know about the issues. I prided myself on knowing our organisation but I can honestly say that using Patient Opinion was the perfect reminder that I can’t possibly know everything that I don’t know!

Measuring, monitoring and responding to the customer experience can give us a leading edge and in today’s competitive market, that’s what we need to aspire to. Social media is the new frontier in communication.


Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly joined BlueCross in Melbourne as its Chief Executive in September 2016 and concurrently holds an adjunct appointment with Australian Catholic University. Prior to his current role, Alan had held senior management and executive roles across a number of health services in Victoria, most recently as the Chief Executive of Eastern Health. Under his leadership Eastern Health received numerous awards for its “IN the Patient’s Shoes” Patient Experience of Care Program and was the Premier’s Health Service of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

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