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Q&A series with Renal Fellow Network deputy editor: Using social media to foster medical conversations

There has been a fair amount of discussion about the benefits of researchers, physicians and health-care providers using blogs and other online tools to share information and foster communication among professionals and the public. One such example is the Renal Fellow Network, a research-related nephrology blog.

In a three-part Q&A series this week, Stanford Nephrology Fellow and Renal Fellow Network deputy editor Graham Abra, MD, discusses how he and colleagues are using social media to provide a forum for discussing nephrology cases, scientific papers and clinical topics.

What was the catalyst for launching the Renal Fellow Network (RFN)?

RFN started out as the personal blog of Nathan Hellman, a nephrology fellow at the Massachusetts General/Brigham & Women's Hospital Combined Nephrology Program. There were many outstanding traditional text resources available at the time but the web based resources, such as nephrologist Burton Rose’s UpToDate, while fantastic in terms of content, lacked in terms of the ability to interact and learn with the authors.

I found RFN during residency while looking for answers to clinical questions online. What I found fascinating about the site was that although Nate was clearly intelligent and on his way to becoming a fantastic nephrologist, he wasn’t an authority. He was someone who was learning, just like I was, and he brought that learners eye to his writing, concisely summarizing complex concepts in understandable ways.

Nate tragically passed away in February 2010. RFN was continued by a group of his peers from Boston and a collection of fellows from other nephrology programs.

How has RFN utilized social media tools to shape the conversation about nephrology research?

RFN is much more than a blog. It is a meeting place for fellows (and others interested in nephrology) to discuss common issues and network...RFN utilizes social media tools to help promote the site and interact with others. For instance RFN maintains both a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Daily updates and interesting news stories are shared with followers of both of these accounts. We actively tweet during major meetings and have actually gained a contributor to the site through our twitter interactions.

This Q&A series continues tomorrow when Abra discusses the challenges of creating and maintaining RFN and how the blog's audience has evolved since its launch in 2008.

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