Almost a month ago, I came across this intriguing tweet.

Who, I wondered, had been so canny/foresighted as to secure a spot in cyberspace for medicarelocal.com.au?

Kristin Michaels, CEO of the Eastern Ranges GP Association in Victoria, subsequently responded to my tweet asking @medicarelocal to explain itself.

***

Helping the community help us to develop health care solutions

Kristin Michaels writes:

As one of the Divisions of General Practice with every intent to become a ‘first round’ Medicare Local, the Eastern Ranges GP Association has put itself out into the webosphere, claiming the Medicare Local web presence early on in the piece.

We recognised when the policy was first floated that the name was going to be key for the government, and so we moved quickly well back in 2009 to secure the web domain and social media presence.

Once we had the addresses, we spent quite a long while working out what was going to be the best way to use them. Given the changing nature of health reform we wanted a site that would remain relevant no matter what direction the policy guidelines took, and we were very focussed on creating something that would engage in a genuine way with the general public.

Our web team at Thirst Studios did a number of feedback and testing activities with the agencies in our local Primary Care Partnership (the Outer East Health and Community Support Alliance), and eventually agreed that the most value would be had by utilising a social media feel, crowdsourcing ideas to improve healthcare and encouraging the community to drive the success of those ideas.

www.medicarelocal.com.au is ultimately a discussion portal, designed to empower the community to “have their say” about healthcare. It encourages users to share their initiatives, providing ideas from the grass roots. This approach utilises community sourced user-generated insights and ideas to assist the development of a new and improved service.

The site is designed to walk people through explaining the problems they see with a health service or the whole system, but it also encourages users to provide a solution to that problem, so it’s not an empty or negative space, but a solution-focused initiative.

Cruising through the site is a pretty straightforward experience. Ideas can be uploaded easily, commented on, and ‘liked’ or given favourite status. There is a good set of community guidelines on the site that steers responsible on-line community participation, and Eastern Ranges GP Association also hosts a blog which contributes to a Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/medicarelocal).

We at Eastern Ranges GP Association are experienced users of social media as a mechanism for engaging with our GP members, local partners and the wider e-community, so creating an on-line presence for Medicare Local was a natural part of developing a plan for the new organisation. We think this will give us a unique insight into the health issues our community are facing, not through MBS stats and ED presentation data, but through the individual and collective voices of our community.

We soft-launched the site about a week ago, and are picking up followers primarily through Twitter at the moment. Our print media advertising goes out next week and we’re itching to see what kind of traffic that generates.

So please take a look at our site, upload an idea (we know you’ve got plenty) and join in the conversation. We’d love to hear from you!

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Yes, but…?

The post left me with a few questions. (If others also have questions they’d like to put to Kristin Michaels, please post a note below in the comments section, or email me direct.)

• Will you evaluate who is using the site, both numbers and demographics, and publish this some way on the website?

• I imagine there is some gnashing of teeth around about you getting in so early in snagging this domain name, so I wonder if you foresee any opportunity for sharing your learnings from the website with other Medicare Locals etc, or linking in with other Medicare Locals?

• Have you any idea how much time/resources this is going to cost you? How much staff power have you allocated?

• Finally, in getting to this stage, is there any advice you would offer those contemplating similar measures – Do’s and Don’ts etc?

What would Croakey readers like to ask those behind MedicareLocals.com.au?

• Declaration: As you will see from the Croakey conflict of interest declaration, I write an occasional column for the ERGPA newsletter. I have had no involvement in the medicarelocal.com.au initiative, and didn’t realise it was an ERGPA project when I saw that first tweet.

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