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How the pharmacy profession can learn from Reddit

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Last week, one of the biggest names on the Internet faced a revolution. Reddit, a social media network mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook, suddenly found itself brought to a standstill by its own users. And while this may seem like it has nothing to do with you, it has everything to do with the way you treat your patients.

A little background. Reddit is basically a series of forums, called subreddits, each with a volunteer team of moderators. One of the most popular subreddits is ‘Ask Me Anything’, in which celebrities, politicians, scientists and authors answer questions posted, literally about anything. Ever wanted to ask Channing Tatum what his favourite sandwich is, or a Nobel prize winner to explain their work? Here’s where you do it. Running these chats requires an administrative liaison employed by Reddit. In this case, the employee was Victoria ‘Chooter’ Taylor. Chooter was incredibly popular in her role, and renowned around the site for helping users engage with their favourite celebrities.

Then Reddit dismissed her, it emerged on 2 July. The reasons are unknown, and aren’t important to this story. What matters is that Chooter’s sudden absence caused a problem for the volunteer moderators: how could they coordinate with the people they have Q+As scheduled with? Unsure what to do, they closed the Ask Me Anything subreddit.

In a show of solidarity, all the major subreddits were then closed by their communities. Soon the protest became about deeper issues: how Reddit had chosen to focus on implementing bells and whistles instead of the features requested by users. How Reddit didn’t communicate well with its community. How the site’s users felt overlooked and undervalued.

The users felt Reddit had neglected its community. And, in the end, it was losing that community.

The parallels to healthcare are fairly obvious. Patients are much like the army of volunteer moderators that run Reddit; they have an investment in their condition and want to have their say in its treatment. They are, for the most part, uninterested in the politics of care or how a drug works. They just want it to work, and, just as importantly, they want it to work in a way that suits them. We ignore them at our peril. There are few things more fatal than the provision of good healthcare than distrust. It stems from a lack of concordance, and can soon lead to non-compliance.

The Reddit revolt is a stark illustration of how communication can break down in a way that hurts both the provider and the user, and that’s a lesson applicable to any business. It’s a reminder of why open, two-way communication is essential way to maintain trust. And, most of all, it shows why you have to consider your user – your patient – first. If they feel you aren’t listening, you’ll find yourself shut out from the very person you’re trying to help.

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