Doctors need to be active on social media and other communication platforms to offset the noise of the anti-science movement according to a visiting professor of anaesthesiology, Dr. Ed Mariano from Stanford University in the US.
Dr. Mariano is speaking at the New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting in Queenstown this week on the role of social media and medicine. He says, there has been a growing anti-science movement and physicians have a moral imperative to stand up for science and evidence-based treatments.
“Surveys show that physicians are one of the most trusted professions in the eyes of the public. Yet most people in the world today get their information, including health information, from the internet. We have to be there to offset the noise,” he says. “We can’t ignore where our patients get their information, and we can join the conversation.”
Dr. Mariano, who is one of the top 10 anaesthetists on Twitter, says social media also offers a way for doctors to keep up-to-date with the latest research and new treatments. For example he cites the exponential growth of regional anaesthesia. Regional anaesthesia allows procedures to be done without the patient being unconscious and can provide targeted pain relief.
“We have more tools at our disposal. New blocks are being performed and described every month and it’s hard to keep up with the literature. Social media allows you to be part of a learning community made up of people who have similar interests and it can curate information for you,” he says.
Dr. Mariano says it works the other way too. He says he’s created great collaborations through social media. “As well as learning things, I’ve had interesting conversations on Twitter that have developed into projects. As an academic physician, I’ve found the use of social media has been invaluable. Engaging in social media gives physicians a worldwide community of colleagues who can help curate the vast and ever-growing amount of information available today.”
At the 2018 annual meeting of the European Society of Regional Anaesthesia and Pain Therapy (ESRA), I was invited to give a talk on regional anesthesia education and social media. In case you missed it, I have posted my slides on SlideShare.
After my session, I was asked by ESRA to highlight some of the key points of my lecture:
Live tweeting during a scientific conference offers many benefits. For attendees at the meeting, it allows sharing of learning points from multiple concurrent sessions. This also decreases the incidence of “FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)” since you can only be in one session at any given time but can learn vicariously through others. For your Twitter community outside the meeting venue, your live tweeting can help to disseminate the key messages from the conference to a broader audience and ultimately may facilitate changes in clinical practice.
Here are a couple of my own general rules to tweet by:
Register your scientific conference hashtag on Symplur. This gives you access to free analytics and transcript services for a limited time.
Be sure to use the correct conference hashtag and include it in all your tweets related to the conference. This is probably included in your conference materials or emails from the organizer. The hashtag allows others to easily find your tweets related to the conference and include your tweets in transcript summaries after the conference is over.
Go for quality and not quantity. It is too difficult (and unnecessary) to give a phrase-by-phrase reproduction of a speaker’s entire lecture. Remember that you are primarily in attendance to learn, so make sure you spend most of your time listening and not tweeting. Consider summarizing two or three salient points into one tweet or tweeting photos of slides with a short commentary to provide context to your Twitter community.
Give credit where credit is due. Do a little homework before tweeting. If a speaker has a Twitter handle, include it in your tweet. If the speaker references a relevant article, find the link and include it in your tweet. These elements make your tweet more informative to the reader and may increase the likelihood of its being retweeted or generating further conversation on Twitter.
Don’t say anything in a tweet that you wouldn’t say to someone in public. Healthy debate is one of the best parts of scientific conferences, but keep the discussion on Twitter clean and professional and of course protect patient privacy and confidentiality.
I am a physician, clinical researcher, and educator.
I am also on Twitter and tweet under the handle @EMARIANOMD.
Naturally you may ask: “How does Twitter fit into a physician’s academic career?” Some of the benefits that Twitter offers doctors have been described previously by Dr. Brian Secemsky and Dr. Marjorie Stiegler among others. Here are a few reasons of my own:
Global Interaction: Through Twitter I interact with people from around the world with similar interests. Participating in Twitter chats like #healthxph or #hcldr can foster innovative ideas that may lead to research questions or other educational opportunities. For example, by tweeting on #kneereplacement, I was invited by orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Hatten, to revise the anesthesia information page on his site, My Knee Guide, an incredible online portal for people considering or undergoing knee replacement surgery.
Search Optimization: On multiple occasions, I have found research articles that my traditional PubMed searches have missed through the tweets posted by colleagues. I have even been able to relocate certain articles faster on Twitter than PubMed when I know they have been tweeted. Researchers can think of hashtags (starting with “#”) essentially like keywords in the academic world. I periodically check #anesthesia, #meded, #pain, and #kneereplacement for new articles related to my research interests.
Lifelong Learning: When I was in training, I used to peruse the pages of JAMA and New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in addition to my own specialty’s journals. Today, it’s difficult to even keep up with new articles just in my own subspecialty. Now I follow JAMA and NEJM on Twitter. By following journals, professional societies, and colleagues with similar interests, I honestly feel that my breadth of knowledge has increased beyond what I would have acquired on my own.
Enriched Conference Experience: A growing trend at medical conferences is “live-tweeting” the meeting. One of my own issues when I attend or present at conferences is that I feel like I miss much of the meeting due to scheduling conflicts. By living vicariously through my colleagues’ tweets at #ASRASpring15 for example, I can pick up pearls of wisdom from speakers in other sessions even while sitting in a different hall. I can also “virtually” attend conferences by following tweets under the hashtags of meetings like #PCP15 in the Philippines in the comfort of my own home.
I often get asked: “Does anyone really care if I tweet what I eat for breakfast?” Probably not. The truth is that you don’t have to tweet anything at all if you don’t want to. Up to 44% of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet. Of course, to be a physician actively engaged on Twitter requires respect for patient privacy and professionalism. I recommend following Dr. John Mandrola’s 10 rules for doctors on social media.
In an interview during Stanford’s Big Data in Biomedicine Conference (video below), I had a chance to explain why I tweet. I’ll admit that getting started is intimidating, but I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. I promise that you won’t regret it, and chances are that you’ll be very happy you did. If you’re still too worried to take the leap, I suggest reading these tips from Marie Ennis-O’Connor to boost your confidence. At least sign up, reserve your handle, and observe.
Observation is still a key part of the scientific method.
Edward R. Mariano, MD, MAS, is a physician specializing in anesthesiology, professor, husband, and father working to improve pain control, outcomes, and the overall experience for patients having surgery