While attending the 2nd ExL Digital Pharma Conference in Berlin in 2010, I listened to a dynamic presentation by a young physician from Hungary who talked about the ways that social media could – and would – make an impact on the practice of medicine. His talk was the hit of the conference and he really excited everyone in the room about the potential for social media and medicine. Afterwards, I caught him for a quick video interview and wrote a posting about it here on Eye on FDA – “The Places That Medicine Can Go – Fascinating Presentation by Dr. Berci Mesko“.
Bertaln Mesko, M.D., PhD. is a “medical futurist” and has a Medical Futurist website to prove it. , He is a medical doctor, a lecturer and a visionary and founder and managing director of the robust site Webicina – which curates social media resources in medicine for both health care professionals and patients (I am on the Webicina International Advisory Board) and founder of The Social MEDia Course. He blogs at Scienceroll.com. In other words, he does a real lot….
This includes writing a new book called Social Media in Clinical Practice. It is a very practical guide for a medical practitioner who wants to learn about how to use social media platforms in various ways to support communications with patients and other medical professionals. It takes you through the how and the why.
Because social media and medicine has evolved so much since our 2010 meeting, I sent Dr. Mesko a few questions about the topic – questions that I thought might be posed from medical professionals who might be curious, but have not yet embraced social media in their practice. Here is what he had to say:
While social media use among those in medical practice is growing, there are a lot of concerns on the part of practitioners that range from potential lapses of privacy to concerns about the return on investment. How would you characterize the “risk-benefit” ratio of social media use by physicians?
I think there aren’t many essential differences between real-life and online communication. I teach my students they should behave online just like they do in the offline world. Therefore, social media can only make processes faster and more interactive, although if your offline communication as a doctor is bad, it’s going to be the same on any social media platforms as well.
There are risks, obviously, but if you know the limitations and potential problems related to the active use of social media, you know what you can do and what you should never do online. That was the basic concept behind writing this handbook so then medical professionals worldwide would get a clear picture about the online channels and ways of communication.
Teaching tricks and rules about the Internet should get a huge emphasis in medical school, but it doesn’t get that kind of attention. This is why I thought there is a niche for such a handbook which includes step-by-step instructions and tutorials focusing on all the major social media channels.
What do you see as the most important benefits to physicians and to patients respecting social media and medicine?
Communication between doctors and patients; or even among doctors; and patients could be more efficient, faster, more interactive and archivable. As we tend to use such social media channels more and more in different areas of our lives from banking to shopping to making friends, it is quite inevitable that at some point it takes its place in practicing medicine and delivering healthcare. In order to take its place in medical communication, we have to make sure all the stakeholders of medicine know how to use it properly and securely. From my perspective, medical professionals should become guides for their patients online and as plenty of patients are quite web-savvy being up-to-date in their own conditions or therapies, it’s time for medical professionals to step up and educate themselves. For this, they need to be even better at using digital channels than their own patients. This is the area where I try to help them make their first steps.
There are many physicians who have embraced social media and are using it regularly in their practice, while there are still many others are not even using email. Are we becoming a system of “haves” and “have nots” in medical practice and what are the consequences of that?
It was quite an expected phenomenon and it happens all the time when anything new is introduced as a new member of the range of technologies doctors should be able to use. It took time to embrace e-mails – now it takes time to embrace social media. But I must observe these processes from a neutral point of view. I tell my medical students that my aim with the course is not to transform them into bloggers and Twitter stars, but to show them solutions so when they meet e-patients or will be challenged with digital-related problems, they will know where to find a solution.
While the practice of medicine is always human-based, some patients do want to use social media channels to keep in touch instead of many phone calls or unnecessary personal visits. If new channels provide us with better methods in medical communication, why not use them?
How do you see the development of medical apps – both for patients and physicians – impacting the use of social media and the practice of medicine?
Medical apps are now on a different level and have the potential to play a crucial role in practicing medicine. Patients will soon be able to measure almost any health parameters about their conditions at home from blodo sugar level to even genomic data; but physicians will have to be able to deal with the additional data patients will bring to the visits.
Although the number of health apps is skyrocketing, we should not forget the basics of evidence-based medicine and stick to this approach when implementing medical smartphone apps into medicine and healthcare. There are more and more studies dedicated to this issue, but their number is still not enough. The potential is clear, but as long as we cannot put evidence behind using these, this is just potential and nothing more.