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Will the company buy our MBA class ideas?

Imagine a man wakes up one morning, feeling light-headed and queasy and sick to his stomach. Being new to Canada and unsure of his abilities in English, he picks up his smartphone and starts to access its applications. He first checks his health-care coverage by logging on to his online e-health profile. Checking over the information in his profile in his native language, he sees that his insurance coverage has kicked in so he isn't hesitant about seeing a doctor. A few weeks prior, he had used the online videos posted on his health-care forum to help him fill out the necessary forms to get insurance coverage.

Next, he uses his mobile app to check out an online blog that discusses the best doctors in the area who speak his native language and follows a link to a social forum that lists clinics in his area. Quickly checking Facebook and Twitter to see if there have been any recent visitors to the clinic in his health-care social support group, he confirms the clinic is good and that he needs to make an appointment. Going back to his mobile application, he is able to make an online booking for two hours from now and begins to get ready to go to the doctor's office.

Does this seem like a realistic scenario?

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Can programs like Facebook and Twitter actually make people more health literate? Is there room for business development to do with health care and social media in Canada?

These are a few questions my classmates and I tackled in our first Integrated Management Exercise, which took place last week. A pillar of our program, the consulting exercise involved working with a health-care solutions company. We had about a month to form a business case on the topic and present our analysis and findings to management at the company.

Frankly speaking, when first presented with the topic, I was completely unsure which way to go with it. We all know how the popularity of Facebook and Twitter has swept the world and have heard about the millions and billions of dollars some of these companies are being valued at. It is already blatantly obvious that social media are here and these are not nickel-and-dime operations.

But there is a huge difference between using a social tool to connect to friends and people who like Jersey Shore and actually building a business plan around investing in and executing a strategic plan to aid in health literacy. Of course, Facebook and Twitter are not the only tools out there; blogs, forums, location-based social networks, video sharing sites, web tutorials, and any media that connect people and get them talking online is something to consider.

Our class had nine work groups and each chose a topic. My group decided to focus on mobile technology and its interaction with social media. We brainstormed ideas, determined the best ones and began researching our various sub-topics through online resources. We conducted a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) on our idea and did cost-benefit and financial analyses.

It was an interesting business case because we were not looking at the bottom line only, as one would for a client simply interested in a lucrative venture that makes a large return on investment. What we were looking for was how to increase people's access to health resources and support by using social media, with the goal of helping them be healthier and better informed.

Is simply building a Facebook group enough? Well, no. It goes beyond that, since a large majority of people who have low levels of health literacy, such as the elderly or the poor, would most likely not be using Facebook. We saw that some people joined health care-related groups on Facebook and follow health-related groups on Twitter. However, overall, the following is fairly lacking. This signals there is room for growth for social media in the health-care sector.

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There were a lot of great ideas put forward in our varied presentations. A few of the ideas presented were: building more interactive websites that feature "webinars" and live-chat supports; video-guided lessons on how to fill out forms and access resources using video-sharing links; and bilingual mobile applications using geo-specific search technologies, to name a few.

We found through our research that, at this point, there are not many companies in health care using social media effectively, though a few are beginning to surface. However, there was a lot of creativity in some of the proposals we put forward, which will hopefully lead to the company implementing some of the ideas and getting ahead of the pack as far as social media tools are concerned.

We had already worked with a number of businesses in our program on different consulting projects, but this one was by far the least clear-cut and had the least obvious solutions. Whether any of our proposals will be put to use remains to be seen, though the feeling we got from management at the company was that they were pleased with our results and may be calling upon some of us to develop our plans further in summer co-ops.

Matthew Wilson, 27, is taking his MBA at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. He plans to specialize in International Business with a minor specialization in Entrepreneurship. Matthew's interest in International Business comes from years working in Japan and experiences abroad in Asia and Europe.

Editor's note: This corrected version of the story reflects the removal of a company's name.

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