Paul Levy is Not Running a Hospital: a look at a digital pioneer in the health care industry

Below is a short film about Paul Levy, who runs the popular health care blog, “Not Running a Hospital”

In August of 2006, Paul Levy, who was then the chief executive for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, read that very few CEOs ran blogs. So he decided to start his own, hoping he could provide the public with a transparent look at Beth Israel.

Levy said that at the time, he put very little thought into his decision to author a blog.

“The reason for it was kind of whimsical, frankly. I had read an article in The New York Times saying that there were hardly any CEOs of companies in the country who had a blog,” Levy said. “And I said, well this looks like an interesting medium: why don’t I try it out?” 

Levy said his staff had mixed reactions to the blog, which was then called “Running a Hospital.” (In 2011, Levy stepped down as CEO and changed the title of the blog to “Not Running a Hospital.”) Executives who were higher up in the organization worried he would write something that could reflect poorly on Beth Israel. But Levy assured his staff that a blog would be the best way to reach the public.

“I say things wrong all the time to reporters or to the public in speeches, and the advantage of a blog is if you say something wrong and someone points it out, you can fix it right away,” he said. “You don’t have to wait for the next news cycle.”

But Levy said that over time, his staff members who were initially critical of the blog started to appreciate it.

“I was telling stories about interesting things in our hospital,” Levy said. “Successes that we had, sometimes failures that we had, always with an eye towards saying that we are a good hospital and that we are trying to get better.”

David Harlow, a lawyer and blogger on health care, said Levy has been a pioneer in promoting hospital transparency.

“He’s been a real force on the scene in Boston,” he said.

Levy was considered an underdog in Boston because there was this perception that Beth Israel was the “weak sister among the Harvard teaching hospitals,” Harlow said. But he gained a lot of credibility by writing openly about Beth Israel.

Harlow also said Levy’s analysis of the news is authentic and “scathingly honest.” 

“He and other good bloggers don’t just blog the news, they blog a perspective on the news,” Harlow said.

Levy infuses his personality into the posts, occasionally including personal anecdotes and pictures that are not related to health care. But at the same time, Levy’s blog is journalistic; he frequently reports on and takes photographs of health care events.

Levy also said that he does not try to appeal to a certain audience; rather he wants his blog to be substantive enough so health care officials will read it, but he also tries to write in a personal fashion to attract readers who aren’t working in the health field.

Levy said that he and Harlow held the world’s first “blog rally” with other bloggers. A blog rally is when bloggers promote a cause by simultaneously posting on a certain social justice issue. The blog rally “Engage with Grace: The One Slide Project” was in 2008, and encouraged families to discuss end-of-life care issues while at Thanksgiving.

“Really difficult issues come up when you’re near death, such as how much care do you want for the patient? And how much care does the patient want?” Levy said. “It’s much better to have those conversations with a person when they’re still alive, rather than to think about it afterwards and ask, did we do the right thing?”

Harlow said he feels empowered by blogging because he doesn’t have to be part of a big media corporation to have his voice heard.

“They are judged on their merits,” he said of bloggers. “It doesn’t have to come from Walter Cronkite to be true, and that’s sort of a big change.”

Since Levy and others coined the term “blog rally” in 2008, there have been examples of numerous blog rallies, some of which have originated overseas, he said.

Levy estimates that an average of 10,000 people visit his site each day. He said that some people subscribe to the blog, whereas others read it on his Facebook page or click on the links to posts that he tweets out. Though Levy said it’s difficult to know just how many people read his content, because his posts are often re-blogged.

Levy primarily uses twitter for his research, and he said that he follows about 170 people who tend to tweet links to interesting articles.

“I use twitter as my librarian,” he said.

Now that Levy is no longer running a hospital, he lectures on health care issues and often writes about his talks. He also recently published a book titled, “Goal Play!: Leadership Lessons from the Soccer Field.”

Jeff Thompson, CEO of the Gundersen Lutheran Health System, which is based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said that although Levy’s experience is based in Boston, he draws lessons from health care organizations all around the world.

“Paul’s not running a hospital now… so he has the opportunity to see the best practices in other places, and that’s terrific,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he often implements Levy’s suggestions into his own health care practices.

“Nobody has all of the answers,” he said. “You have to look broadly, to look in a lot of places. And that’s what Paul helps us do.”

During the month of November, men around the globe grow mustaches to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues, specifically for prostate and testicular cancer. On Nov. 29, partygoers donned mustaches for a Movember gala at the Royale Boston Nightclub. The profits from ticket sales went to charity. 

katherine_photo

Movember partygoers raise funds for men’s health. To see more photos of the event, click here.

 

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