Martha Bebinger, a longtime reporter for WBUR in Boston, had been reporting on efforts to control health care spending in Massachusetts for years, but over the past year and a half to two years, interest in the subject intensified among listeners, she said, and it was time to help them be part of a conversation.

And so Bebinger and WBUR launched Healthcare Savvy, an online community of patients who are starting to shop for health care based on quality and cost.

Launched in mid-August, the site already has more than 150 members, a mix of both patients and health care providers. This modest success has been achieved with little formal promotion, aside from placement on the WBUR homepage and a handful of on-air references. Also, right after the site launched, it got shout-outs from a few influential Twitter accounts, including GOOD.

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Healthcare Savvy is spearheaded by Bebinger (pictured at left), a former Nieman fellow who also happens to have launched the station’s original CommonHealth blog (now part of NPR’s Argo network). 

Healthcare Savvy was born to provide a space for discussion as well as a compendium of resources on health costs, including how to talk to your health care provider about the cost of care — a subject that may feel embarrassing or taboo to many patients. The project is funded in part by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Bebinger’s role is to foster productive conversation and direct people to resources and information based on the stories they share on the site. Now that the site’s up and running, with a core group of active members, Bebinger is turning her attention to the challenge of turning a bunch of individual members into a true community.

Bebinger said some members seem to have the instinct to respond to each other and provide support, but she wants to encourage much more of this kind of behavior, including forming groups on the site around common interests and problems. She’s also considering adding real-world meet-ups to the mix.

Amanda Hirsch is a writer, online media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com and spends way too much time on Twitter.

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This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Integrated Media Association’s Public Media Innovators Project, a weekly blog series about the people and projects that are helping make public media a relevant and viable media enterprise for the 21st century.

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