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Aug 14 2012   1:09PM GMT

Social media platform drives clinical innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Boston Children's Hospital, internal social network, intranet, joomla, patient care, remote access

Guest Post by: Sarah Mahoney, Digital Health Group Manager, Weber Shandwick

A common misconception of social media is that it comes exclusively in the form of a website like Twitter or Facebook-a public tool for sharing and exchanging information between users. Social media can, however, come in many different forms.

One example is Boston Children’s Hospital’s (BCH) internal medical community called SPARC, or the Social Platform for Accelerating Resources and Connections. I helped launch this internal social network in February 2012 and have witnessed a medical revolution of sorts, in the way we communicate. Today, Boston Children’s employees including clinicians, researchers and administrators utilize SPARC to foster communication, collaboration and innovation, with the end goal of better care for patients.

The Birth of SPARC

The need to develop an internal social platform for BCH became apparent after realizing how difficult it was for the entire medical staff to connect with one another due the sheer size of Boston Children’s Hospital. Its 10 thousand employees are spread out across multiple hospital locations in Massachusetts, and there was a need for clinicians and medical staff to collaborate and generate new ideas that would lead to new innovations. BCH determined virtual collaboration through a social Intranet would increase clinical innovation throughout its network. Thus, SPARC was born.

SPARC Features

With SPARC, members of the BCH community are able to create and join groups, search for experts and resources, broadcast announcements and actively converse within the social platform.

Some of the main features of SPARC include:

Groups: Users can create groups based on their interests. Groups can be open for everyone, or regulated through an invitation system. Each group has its own blog, discussion board, events scheduling, photo/video galleries with tagging systems. BCH has more than 40 active groups within SPARC.

Wiki: Within each group, there is a wiki and document repository that allows group members to share and collaborate on documents.

Idea Lab: SPARC users have the ability to propose innovative ideas to the community. These ideas are then shaped through a commenting and voting system. Popular ideas can be adopted then archived to allow for new ideas.

Colleagues: A user index makes it easy to communicate through a messaging and task system. Users have the ability to assign tasks to other users and are notified when the task has been completed.

Resource Exchange: Whether SPARC users are looking for a 3D printer, or lab supplies, they can post it in the Resource Exchange. Users can then comment and collaborate to find the required resources.

Specific Examples

In SPARC’s Idea Lab, community members can be active by commenting and voting on innovation in hospital administration and treating patients. In May 2012, BCH challenged the SPARC community to develop and share their innovative ideas. Over the five-day “Idea Tournament,” 1,100 SPARC users voted on more than 30 ideas on a broad range of topics from medical devices to mobile apps. Nearly half of the submitted ideas are in development by various departments.

SPARC members use the Intranet to securely store information that can be accessed and protected remotely. SPARC was custom-coded to function as wiki pages, allowing users to post content serving as a ready reference during clinical work. SPARC content can be created, edited and managed by users through an intuitive and user-friendly graphical user interface. It offers all of this and the ability for multiple users to contribute to a single document. SPARC looks great on a desktop, but it’s also built to function extremely well from a mobile device.

Pediatric medical residents use SPARC for a mobile clinical information-sharing network. These residents rotate between day and night shifts-and they can use their iPads and other mobile devices to access the newly created information-sharing network.

Joomla Powers SPARC

BCH created SPARC utilizing Joomla, an open source Content Management System used to build websites, applications, blogs, Intranets and mobile applications. Joomla powers roughly three percent of the world’s websites. You have likely used a website based on Joomla without knowing it.

Joomla offered BCH the flexibility to constantly incorporate new features and to fully customize the community within SPARC since it is open source and scalable. Open source software, like Joomla, is free to use. Therefore, the only costs are for development, maintenance and hosting. It took less than two months to build and launch SPARC.

SPARC Security and Specs

SPARC was created in a secure, enterprise cloud-hosting environment, which provided the ability to be PCI-DSS and HIPAA compliant. It is routinely scanned for any potential security vulnerabilities and is approved by the Boston Children’s Information Services Department. SPARC is backed up using AES 256 encryption methods and all of our backups are retained in an off-site, highly-secured data center. BCH does not store any protected health information on SPARC.

Broad Adoption

Since it was launched six months ago, Boston Children’s employees including clinicians, researchers and administrators have broadly adopted SPARC. Today, it has over 1,400 users, 150 blog posts and 800 wiki pages. 60 percent of users are involved in at least one of the 40 active groups, which include clinical, departmental, laboratory, special interest and technology groups.

By using SPARC, BCH employees have a continuous flow of information exchange, which enhances their knowledge. It allows access to important pediatric care information, especially in urgent situations where the information might not otherwise be readily accessible.

Developing this Intranet using Joomla has been a powerful experience, uniting BCH medical professionals. By creating this social platform, SPARC users have created new processes and systems that ultimately improve patient care. The success of a medical social network proven by SPARC in just six months may open the way for more innovation across the medical community.

Author Sarah Mahoney was the Community Manager during the launch of SPARC for Boston Children’s Hospital.

Comment on this Post

Leave a comment:

IdeationNation  |   Dec 31, 2013  5:26 PM (GMT)

I am consulting with a hospital that is engaged in developing the same.  I would love to speak to you about your experience.  Please email me at

I look forward to hearing from you.


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