A strong advocate for including digital literacy in medical education, self-described “geek medical futurist” Bertalan Meskó, MD, PhD, believes that online communication tools, such as social media, can improve the way medicine is practiced and health care is delivered. His interest in technology and health care led him to create a university course focusing on bringing the web into medical practice and to launch Webicina, which offers curated social media resources in 140 topics and 20 languages for patients and medical professionals for free.
In September, Meskó will lead a Master Class on how to teach social media in the context of health sciences as part of the Stanford Medicine X conference. Interested to know more about the class, I contacted him to discuss his approach for incorporating digital literacy into medical school curriculum. Below he discusses, among other things, top trends in social media and health care and why medical professionals should take an evidence-based approach to social media.
Why do you believe that medical students and professionals should engage in social media?
Being a medical professional means we constantly have to communicate with patients, our peers and even with information. Since social media is now an integrated part of communication, medical professionals must deal with this as well. [It's] the responsibility of doctors to deal with e-patients properly and use the Internet in a meaningful and efficient way.
It is getting more complicated to keep ourselves up-to-date and get medical answers when we have really hard questions, but social media can be useful if used with strategy and design. This is why we have to teach how to properly use these tools.
During a 2011 keynote speech at Doctors 2.0 & You, you advocated for health-care providers to take an evidence-based approach to social media. Can you explain why this strategy is important and how you use it in your own practice?
Including social media solutions in any industry can be a fast and efficient process, but medicine works in a different way. I was trained to embrace evidence-based medicine and I use that approach when teaching social media. There are platforms and solutions that might be fantastic and useful in health care, although sometimes when these are tested in practice, they fail compared to traditional methods.
By using the evidence-based approach, I mean that we should not include something immediately in medicine just because it is about social media… We have to test everything to make sure it’s truly useful.
What are some of the top trends you’re seeing in social media and health care?
Platforms come and go. I’m glad to see that trends are now more about meaningful use. There are fewer medical mobile apps downloaded, and people spending their precious time online seem to use the web in a more efficient way. If I have to mention certain trends, I would say Twitter seems to be the top platform for communication; gamification seems to be the best way to motivate students (the Septris app is a good example); people tend to realize they need to know their communities if they want to crowdsource medical questions; and curation of social media is key; while wearable technologies such as Google Glass will definitely add new practices to using social media.
But the practice of medicine must still take place in real life, and these digital technologies can only be useful after an established relationship between the patient and the doctor.
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