Indian Health Service confronted by patient complaints on Facebook

IHS says it is aware of Facebook site describing patient experiences

The Indian Health Service (IHS) today acknowledged it is paying attention to patient feedback from an nontraditional source -- an informal, unaffiliated Facebook Web site.

The Facebook group site, titled “I just spent 6 hours at the IHS just for them to give me a Tylenol,” was established by a Facebook user in January. It has more than 1,900 members.

The Facebook group members have published hundreds of comments describing  long waits and other frustrations with IHS services, while some comments are neutral or positive. Although the group information page lists the site’s purpose as “Just for Fun,” many of the comments appear to be serious.

“Just because something is ‘government-run’ does not mean it has to be bad or incompetent,” was posted on March 16.

An agency spokeswoman today provided a comment to Federal Computer Week on the IHS’ response to the Facebook Web site: “The Indian Health Service is aware of this new site. Input and feedback from patients seen at IHS health care facilities has been a key aspect of each facility’s ongoing performance improvement process,” said Dianne Dawson, public affairs specialist for the IHS. “The IHS leadership takes patient comments and feedback very seriously.”

Dawson declined to comment further or to describe in detail whether, or how, the IHS will be reviewing and evaluating the Facebook comments.

For IHS and other government health agencies, the situation presents some challenges when complaints are presented in the form of social media commentary, according to Mark Trahant, a Kaiser media fellow who is examining the IHS.

Although the IHS and the Health and Human Services Department have several official conduits for tribal consultation and data collection, the informal nature of patient feedback presented in the format of social media presents new concerns, Trahant wrote in a March 9 column in Indian Country Today.

“Most complaints aren’t filed, they are spoken between family members or said in the waiting room. How does a modern health care agency learn from those?” Trahant asks. “This is where the new world of social media kicks in.”

Trahant encouraged the IHS to review and learn from the Facebook Web site.

“This may sound odd, but IHS is lucky to have such a page already created on Facebook,” Trahant wrote. “The agency ought to embrace it, monitor it, react when it can and learn.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Apr 18, 2013

I had a hugely disappointing experience at an IHS hospital in Acoma New Mexico this evening. I am not Native American but I did bring a close friend of mine to to the emergency room because of severe side pain. We were unpleasantly greeted by the receptionist who frankly stated that it would be at least 2 hours until we would be seen. After waiting that long, the doctor was extremely rude to my friend and I was completely blown away. She was being seen for a possible kidney infection and he simply sent a nurse in with a slew of pain medication and told us to wait 45 minutes for that to kick in. After waiting that long and finally asking for someone to come back, the pain had not receded in the slightest. Next step....put an IV in and pump more morphine and anti-inflammatory. Again doctor just extremely rude especially when I started questioning the reasoning behind all the pain meds and not treating the actual problem. The girls comes in with a swollen kidney and they are treating her for her sciatic nerve problem instead!!!!!! She leaves feeling no pain and high as hell but did they fix the actual problem.....NO! Guess we'll have to come back when the pain meds wear off if the real problem is still there. No wonder she begged me not to take her to the docor because I thought she had a uti...guess next time we will just have to wait until her kidney bursts before we come to emergency room....

Mon, Feb 21, 2011 Adelina Defender Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

Dr. Paul Rund appears to know our plight. He proposes to "abolish" BIA and cut IHS services by $650,000,000. As a Brain Countryman wrote in the comment section of the Washington Examiner referencing Washington, D.C. politicians, "We need to stop these crooked public officials who have been robbing us blind for years...we are gettin no return on our investment so it's no big deal to simply fire all of them and set up a temporary government similar to what is being done in the Middle East, but I would certainly do it more efficiently."

Sun, Feb 13, 2011 Sharon Ruth

They don't care

Mon, Jan 24, 2011 Warsaw MT

I just saw this information and thought it was interesting that there is no further effort by the agency to adopt some sort of social media policy to ensure the agency is kept up in techonological times. The potential of abuse by employees exists so proper management is paramount in ensuring this sort of communication is properly managed.

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