The first international event entirely dedicated to social media and health-care took place on June 22 & 23 in Paris. Aptly titled “Doctors 2.0”, the congress, organised by Basil Strategies, an eHealth & eMarketing Social Media consultancy founded by Denis Silber, in collaboration with an advisory board team of health care and social media experts, brought together hundreds of delegates from medical associations and pharma companies in the beautiful location of the Cite Universitarie to discuss the strategies available to health care professional to fully explore the potential of online social media within the framework of the evolving doctor-patient relationship in Europe.
Bertalan Mesko, author of the award-winning medical blog, ‘Science Roll’ and Hungarian most prominent social media physician, opened up the second day of congress, presenting an opinionated review of the most useful apps and online resources available to health care professionals. Let’s see some. When doctors need to perform a semantic search to find content that is relevant for them, one of the best applications available on the web is definitely Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha is not a simple search tool, but it is a computational knowledge engine that uses built-in knowledge manually curated by experts to provide a specific answer to a query (not necessarily health related). In so doing , Wolfram Alpha allows doctors to easily retrieve all kinds of medical data, from blood pressure and heart rate, to epidemiological data. Furthermore, it can also be used to perform calculations such body mass index and serum levels, just to name two common examples.
While Wolfram Alpha helps Doctors 2.0 find answers to specific queries, other online tools are available to retrieve information. One of the difficulties when performing online searches, is distinguishing between credible and less credible resources. One of the tools available for this task is Webicina, a free aggregator and curator of quality medical social media resources in 17 languages. Through the ‘PeRSSonalized Medicine’ tool, Webicina helps you pick the best medical blogs, podcasts, and social media resources for each topic or disease you may be interested it. Webicina was founded by Mesko and the content is curated by him with the help of an advisory board that features key opinion leaders in health 2.0 (including Denis Silber), participatory healthcare and the e-patient movement. Webicina is also downloadable as an app.
Another way Doctors 2.0 are using social media is through crowdsourcing and collaboration, which takes place on platforms and communities. Crowdsourcing in health is particular useful as it allows the creation, through the joint effort of different expertise and experiences, of ‘surplus knowledge’ that can be vital in reaching a diagnosis for a complicated case. In the UK, the main example is doctors.net.uk but it is by no means the only one. A very interesting and innovative example that was presented at the congress is Medting, a web platform that allows physicians to share medical images and videos and build clinical cases online, by working on collaborative workspaces and maps mash ups, with the goal of reaching a diagnosis through crowdsourcing.
The just-launched VoxMed is another example of a social media platform that allows crowdsourcing for health care professionals, and it is unique insofar as it is targeted at health care professional in general: physicians, pharmacists, and nurses.
A different take on crowd sourcing, is the Research to Reality (R2R) platform, an online community targeted at researchers and practitioners. Developed and supported by the NCI, this community is both an information resource and a forum aimed at bridging the gap of translation between the bench and the bedside and at moving evidence-based programs into clinical practice.
As put by professor of surgery and public health researcher Atul Gawande in the commencement speech at Harvard Medical School this year, making health care work is an increasingly big challenge: “The complexities are overwhelming governments, economies, and societies around the world. We have every indication, however, that where people in medicine combine their talents and efforts to design organized service to patients and local communities, extraordinary change can result.” Crowdsourcing trough social media “local communities” like the ones presented above can be regarded as the most recent example of leveraging the power of team-work to improve healthcare.
Doctors and in general health care professionals have therefore a unique opportunity in front of them in terms of potentials of social media for healthcare betterment. Two are the main hindrances to the full exploitation of this potential that were highlighted at the wrap-up of the Doctors 2.0 congress. The former is the reluctance of doctors to engage in the sharing and creating of knowledge through open online communities. As provocatively put by some at the congress, “doctors may like innovation, but not change”. This reluctance to engage in open communities seems to be a characteristic of the professional category transversal to European nationalities. The latter is the absence of a common platform where health care professionals and patients can exchange and share information. Quite obviously, the former can also constitute an obstacle for the latter. On the one hand, solution to fill in the needed gap of a common platform for communication across disciplines will be presented at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in September 2011. On the other hand, education may modify the engrained habit of doctors to discuss clinical matters only in closed community among their peers. One example is the first university course dedicated to Medicine and Web2.0, which will be presented this coming September at the Medicine 2.0 congress in Stanford. Finally, in order to fully exploit the potential of social media in e-health, guidelines for good practice need to be developed. A project called ‘Open Access Social Media Guide for Pharma’, was recently launched by Webicina, and a similar one will be launched in the near future for doctors. The projects aims to collaboratively create through crowdsourcing an open-access set of guidelines that pharma companies can then use for free and personalize according to their own needs and preferences. You can show your interest in actively participating in the project by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcome to the era of Participatory Medicine!