I have been in hot, sunny Phoenix for a couple of days (it’s been 94 degrees, which local people think is cool for this time of year). I have attended the first annual Healthcare New Media Conference attended by online leaders from many major medical centers across the country. The differing views and activities have been fascinating.

We all feel we are on the ground floor of something as we recognize that beyond websites, the public has moved on to social networking a la twitter, Facebook, and all sorts of services courtesy of Microsoft and Google, WebMD, Everyday Health,and many more – including little ole Patient Power.

I was honored to be a speaker, for the first time, not as a vendor paired with someone from a name institution, but rather in my own right as a patient-advocate who has tried to break new ground on the web. My message was simple: showcase patients as people ahead of big name doctors or medical technology.

What was instructive were the websites the major medical centers showed off. Happily, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has been working hard to show off what they call “Harvard with Heart.” Several of the hospitals in Boston are staffed by Harvard Medical School physicians. Beth Israel Deaconess is trying to differentiate their image by putting the faces and stories of their patients first. I applaud them for that. They also are getting their priorities straight by launching a “Healthy is…” campaign that highlights what it means to Boston area people to have good health. Photos and stories show us the activities they love that celebrate good health. Isn’t this what healthcare is all about – achieving and maintaining good health and not dwelling on illness?

Interestingly, a marketing manager from another major city saw it differently. She told us she had stripped away photos of happy citizens and replaced them with photos of academic medical experts and science at work. She and her superiors had felt it was more fitting for her university. I am sure the “Harvard with Heart” folks in Boston would disagree.

Of course, so do I. Aren’t we past the time when hospitals are essentially saying “We are the experts and you’re not,” or that “we can provide science that will make you well but it’s complicated, we’ll handle it.” My talk in Phoenix and all I believe now is that it is the patient and their good health is what needs to be front and center, not people in white coats with big titles.

While the arrogance of some medical institutions may be fading on the web, the “grayness” of medical communications is still evident. And few institutions truly see the patient as a smart customer. My belief is that doctors are our consultants, not our “parents.”

So congrats to the folks at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess. I hope we can to work with them and that the “other guys” have a change of heart.

Let me know what you think and feel free to comment on the hospitals near you.

Wishing you and your family the best of health!

Andrew