David Asch and Raina Merchant, Philadelphia Inquirer, Ice Bucket Challenge

David Asch and Raina Merchant, Philadelphia Inquirer, Ice Bucket Challenge

In an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, LDI Senior Fellows David Asch and Raina Merchant explore why the highly publicized "Ice Bucket Challenge" to raise money for ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease research provides a promising communications model for other health-care topics.

Promulgated by online video and other social media, the ice bucket challenge works like this: A person is publicly called out to dump a bucket of ice water on their head on camera and post that video online. They can either do that or decline and donate $100 to ALS research or both. That person than calls out three other people to do the same thing.

Creating a social media craze
In July, the concept was boosted to national prominence when a personality on the Golf Channel TV program Morning Drive went on camera to dump a bucket on himself, followed the next day by a similar on-camera performance by an NBC anchor on "The Today Show." The ALS campaign became a mainstream media phenomena that enticed even President Obama to publicly donate $100 rather than go under the bucket when challenged by Ethel Kennedy.

Watch Bill Gates takes the ice bucket challenge.

The bottom line is that the ALS Association reports a ten-fold increase in year-over-year donations. Meanwhile, the effort that has lit up Twitter and Facebook has also taken the issue of ALS to an unprecedented new level of public awareness.

'New ways to advance social good'
Asch and Merchant, who co-authored the piece with Roy Rosin, write, "Health-care organizations rarely consider the power of social ties to influence a target audience. Privacy concerns and regulations arouse conservatism and limited engagement strategies. The ice bucket challenge invites us to consider new ways to advance social good with elements of surprise, social currency, and making normally private actions public. By heeding these principles, health-care organizations may find themselves in the ALS Association's enviable position of seeing ideas serving their interests continually amplified and acted upon."

Asch, MD, MBA, is Executive Director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation and Professor of both Medicine and Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, and of Health Care Management in The Wharton School. Merchant, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Perelman and Director of the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab. Rosin, MBA, in the Chief Innovation Office at Penn Medicine's Center for Health Care Innovation.