A Rheumatologist's View on Social Media: Interview

I start a new series of interviews with medical professionals and e-patients about how they use social media presented through practical examples and suggestions. I think it’s time to talk about the details and exact habits in social media instead of wondering whether it can be useful in medicine or not. I tell you it can be, if used with strategy, in a nutshell.

The Irish Rheumatologist and social media user, Dr. Ronan Kavanagh (blog & Twitter) accepted my invitation and we talked about these real examples from his own practice. Here is how a rheumatologist uses social media with amazing sites and solutions.

  • What social media channels do you use in your work and for what purposes?

I use Twitter as my primary source of medical and non-medical news and have one single identity there (as opposed to personal and professional). Twitter allows me instant access to streams of concise, relevant information from sources with similar interests to me that I can trust. It has also opened my eyes to exciting innovation taking place at the interface of medicine & technology and has allowed me to connect with other healthcare professionals, patient advocates researchers and talented innovative people. I also use Twitter to help spread information I glean from medical conferences. The act of distilling the essence of a paper into 140 characters knowing its going to be read by colleagues focuses the mind like nothing else!

I use Google reader to collate all of my rheumatology journals and interesting blogs, and have also used Google circles to present and discuss difficult cases with other medical colleagues. I use both Facebook (I have a personal account and a separate business page for my practice) and Youtube to share relevant rheumatology and health related information with my patients. I also use WordPress to publish a regular blog and use Twitter and Facebook Linkedin to distribute the blog. I use Slideshare to share presentations and am beginning to develop content content for medical student education using the online presentation tool, Prezi which you can share online. I also use Pinterest to share interesting stuff online but am uncertain how useful its going to be for me. Its hard to keep all of these portals running.

I also have a profile on Linkedin that has resulted in some interesting introductions (regarding writing and speaking invitations). On balance, and despite its rapid growth, I think it has relatively limited use for healthcare professionals in general.

I have also been experimenting with an exciting new service called Vsnap which allows users to send personalised short 1 minute video clips embedded within an email. I think it has some potential to communicate important information to patients and has significantly more impact than a text based email.

I am in the process of setting up a new Web2.0 website for my practice with a company called Symplur which will allow me to co-ordinate and harness the power of all all of these forms of social media together to educate my patients.

  • What do your patients think about social media? Do they use it?

Having well educated and motivated patients in my practice makes my life (and their lives) a lot easier and I have been increasingly using social media channels to facilitate that process. I undertook a survey of my patients this year and they are very active online. Despite the slightly older age demographic of my practice (median age 57 yrs), 72% of my patients have internet access. 70% of those without direct internet access had a family member who would use it on their behalf and over 80% have looked for health related information on line. 41% of my patients are on Facebook but very few (5.3%) are on Twitter. When I ask them directly about their online experience of searching for healthcare related information, many feel overwhelmed by the volume of information online and can be a little nervous about its provenance. The feedback I’ve had about my attempts to act as a curator of content has been very positive. I think patients need a reliable guide online and I see that as my role.

  • What social media sites do you think point towards the future of healthcare?

Howard Luks is an orthopaedic surgeon who is the leader and pathfinder for the best and most innovative ways for communicating to patients using social media. I really like Dr. Ves Dimov’s site especially his Allergy site. There’s a new doctors networking and collaboration site called Sermo which looks exciting (doctors can share clinical problems and get ‘curbside consults’ from other doctors). Unfortunately it is US only at present but there is another similar service called Medcrowd which has some promise. There’s a lot of talk about patient network community sites online (patientslikeme.com) but none of the patients surveyed in my practice have participated of joined any of them (its just a matter of time I think).

It is great to really good up to date collection of rheumatology related links (to journals, blogs, news links, video’s and slidesets) online and there’s really nothing else like it online at the moment. It is an invaluable resource for rheumatologists trying to find their way online and make the best of whats available.

I like the fully customizeable dynamic RSS page on Webcina a lot. I’m reasonably IT literate but still struggle a bit with RSS feeds and formatting them to look as I would like. This page allows you access to the live RSS feeds from all of the major rheumatology journals on one page and is fully customiseable so you can add or delete journals as you would like. Excellent idea.