Saturday, March 31, 2012

Help wanted to repurpose physician knowledge.

Using social media to encourage using social media

Problem: How do we get great clinician educators--doctors with hearts of gold, infused with passion and brimming with insight, who have valuable and unique perspectives confined to their heads--to give Twitter a try?

The paradox here is that for many superb doctors who are passionate about doing right for patients, it is the service to this very passion that makes them very, very busy--so busy, in fact, that they are reluctant to explore the potential of a new platform to promote their passion. Since services like Twitter need to be tried to be understood, how do we break this barrier? (To use business language- how do we enable physician knowledge to scale?)

I have such a clinician in mind, and wrote about him here. I approached him in the gentlest way possible, taking great pains not to act like I, a medical newbie, was telling him how to do his job. I explained that it's the fact that his passion resonated with me that motivates my recommendation.

He replied something to the effect "Yeah, that sounds nice, but I'm too busy."

This isn't an isolated case. Rather, it points at a central hang-up in modern medicine that Bryan Vartabedian has called the need to Repurpose Physician Knowledge. Dr. Vartabedian is asking if we can develop systematic approach to sharing genuine medical insight?

I have an idea for this that can be implemented right now, and I need your help to pull try it out. Can you comment below in support of my clinician educator giving Twitter a try? If your comments could adhere to this general format, I'd be intensely gratified:

- Please please PLEASE use a nice, respectful tone.*
- State your general role in healthcare (patient, doctor, nurse, onlooker, med student, etc.)
- Why you think it's worth a shot. Feel free to condense your support to a single word like "Because" or a phrase like "Because I've learned from Twitter." Alternatively, feel free to elaborate away.
- Bonus: If you tailor your response to your perspective, holy smokes.

Let's develop a name for the process whereby the social media community approaches someone currently outside that community, someone who has been vetted by a respected voice from within the community, and this approach is made via the very social media platforms that said community is promoting. I'm thinking it should be called a social media intervention. Other ideas?

If this social media intervention works with my clinician, perhaps it can serve as a model for getting other doctors involved, serving as an early step toward systematizing the repurposing of physician knowledge.

*This really is important. At the risk of sounding condescending, NOTHING more effectively turns people off to trying something new than condescension.


Brian McGowan, PhD said...

I am an research scientist and educator who has spent the past 10 years trying to improve the way information flows through the healthcare community - and I believe that this is as complex a process as any. The thing is...the culture of medicine is often competitive and largely hierarchical; but real, rapid, and permanent learning is stifled by competition and dampened by hierarchy. I truly believe that sharing of knowledge, both explicit and tacit, through new social channels is the natural evolution of learning. Please try one channel, have someone show you how to filter and control the information stream, and in a matter of hours you will find access to information from rich sources that you may have never before conceived. I know I for one would love to learn from you!

Thank you,


Bennett said...

I'm a Pediatric ID Doc with the brunt of the service time, due to being the Junior Faculty of the division. But I Tweet. I Tweet about interesting facts, findings, papers and patients (obviously taking privacy into account). I Tweet about the frustrations of practice and the joys of my job. I Tweet about teaching, research, my life outside of medicine (yes I do have one). I even run a semi-regular ID case discussion on Twitter where anyone from laymen to post-docs can chime in to solve the case.

I see Twitter as an adjunct to what I can offer the world through my patient care, research and medical education. In the same fashion I can learn FROM those that I follow, both personally and professionally. It's faster than blogging (you can throw off a Tweet from your phone during an elevator ride...), easier than surfing for news, and fun!

Twitter is one of those odd things that can, actually, fit into your life - not the other way around.


Bennett @peds_id_doc

kate said...

I am a pediatrician working in an Emergency Department and completing my year as Chief Resident.  My "ah-hah" moment with Twitter came after seeing a 15 month old who was in a car accident. She suffered severe bruising that she might have been spared if her parents had known about the latest car seat recommendations from the AAP. Her well child visit with her PCP was literally the next day.  

Driving home that night I thought about all of the parents of one year olds who were turning car seats forward. I didn't want them to wait months until the next visit with their PCPs to know about the new recs. I wanted them to know right then.  I wanted to shout this from my car but doubted that the words would reach my target audience.  Twitter seemed like an effective way for an MD to communicate instantly with patients.   Flu shot reminders, new health and safety recs, links to parenting advice could be tweeted.  As the mother of a toddler myself, I don't always have time to sit and read long blog posts but I can read 144 characters!

Nine months in, I mostly learn things from Twitter.  And I learn them quickly!   If there is a new study, news piece or viral video that interests me or pertains to my work, I hear it on Twitter first and usually days before my other info sources. (These sources include other MDs, NPR, email updates from various journals and list serves, and rarely the local news.)  As for my initial inspiration, I still do most of my sharing by mouth as the people I care for and work with (including most of my 60 pediatric residents) are not on Twitter.  

I truly hope that the physician Twitter community continues to grow and becomes a common tool for us to educate each other and our patients.  In the meantime, I continue my recruitment measures by saying "Do you know what I read on Twitter this morning?"

Katie @mamakatemd

sammack said...

I'm an MD-PhD student, and while I admittedly mostly use Twitter for non-medical and non-research related purposes, I think it holds some value for physicians by way of its immediate and easily digestible format.

More importantly, though, I expect that physicians who are currently "off-the-grid" from a social networking perspective, will suffer down the road (along with their patients) if they continually shut themselves off from new ways of exchanging information. A lot will happen in the next decade or two, as we continually get better at rapidly synthesizing and disseminating information. Whether Twitter remains an important part of the solution in the future or is simply a step toward some better technology is almost immaterial. The important thing is to be in the game.

Heather Logghe said...

Hi Aaron,

Great post on a really important topic! I like to call the process of getting my mentors on Twitter “reverse mentoring.” I am a little concerned that “social media intervention” might be offensive to the recipient, as it suggests there is something wrong with their current way of being and the need for others to “intervene.”

The concept of reverse mentoring in technology in healthcare is described in an AMA article titled, “Giving technology tips to older doctors should be done delicately” I highly recommend the article. As you suggested, there can be a fine line between suggesting and insulting and the article helps provide a strategy to avoid the latter.

I have found technology to be a wonderful opportunity to mentor my mentors and provide a mutual benefit in the mentoring relationship. (See

One technique I have found particularly helpful is to literally walk my mentors through the process. For an example, spending 45 min with one mentor helping him find and appropriate photo and showing him now to upload it to Twitter. Or opening a Twitter and Hootsuite account for another mentor, and showing her how to log in. I have emailed mentors with suggestions on things to tweet and given them feedback on the tweets they have tweeted on their own.

I find this level of one-on-one support takes some of the fear out of the process and also saves them time and frustration. Thus eliminating some of the common hurdles to participating in social media.

Thanks for the great post! Good luck with your mentor. I look forward to updates on how things turn out!

Best regards,

Heather Logghe