New WBUR Website Helps Patients Navigate Healthcare Costs
By Amanda Hirsch
New from WBUR in Boston, Healthcare Savvy is an online community of patients who are starting to shop for health care based on quality and cost. Launched in mid-August, the site already has over 150 members, a mix of both patients and healthcare providers. This modest success has been achieved with little formal promotion, aside from placement on the WBUR homepage and a handful of on-air references. Also, right after the site launched, it got shout-outs from a few influential Twitter accounts, including GOOD.
Healthcare Savvy is spearheaded by Martha Bebinger (pictured at left), a former Nieman fellow and longtime health reporter for WBUR who also happens to have launched the station's original CommonHealth blog (now part of NPR's Argo network). Bebinger has been reporting on efforts to control healthcare spending in Massachusetts for years, but says that over the past year and a half to two years, interest in the subject intensified among listeners, who showed more interest in being part of a conversation on the subject.
Hence, Healthcare Savvy was born, providing a space for discussion as well as a compendium of resources on health costs, including how to talk to your healthcare provider about the cost of care -- a subject that may feel embarrassing or taboo to many patients. The project is funded in part by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Bebinger's role is to foster productive conversation and direct people to resources and information based on the stories they share on the site. Now that the site's up and running, with a core group of active members, Bebinger is turning her attention to the challenge of turning a bunch of individual members into a true community. She says some members seem to have the instinct to respond to each other and provide support, but she wants to encourage much more of this kind of behavior, including forming groups on the site around common interests and problems. She's also considering adding real-world meet-ups to the mix.
Bebinger credits her Nieman fellowship with inspiring her about the possibilities of digital journalism. She also emphasizes how fortunate she feels to work for a station that encourages this kind of experimentation. In the long-term, she'd like to develop a database of healthcare costs in Massachusetts, and is seeking funding for this vision.
Are you using the web to help your community solve real-world problems? Do you feel like your station encourages you to experiment with new ways of serving the public? Share your story.
Amanda Hirsch is a writer and online media consultant with deep ties to public media. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she's written for MediaShift and P.O.V. and managed the EconomyStory project. Amanda also co-hosted the weekly #pubmedia chat on Twitter. You can follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.