The internet has laid to rest the Yellow Pages and snail-mail, alleviated the need for stacks of photo albums and shelves of tomes of encyclopaedia, and it is now available on devices right in your pocket. But are you using it to its full potential to further your career in medicine and healthcare? By Kamelia Kountcheva.
N ow that babies are more or less born with a smartphone in their hand and the almost innate desire to update their Twitter feed, social media is an inescapable reality. However, even though in today’s society online networking is as ubiquitous as air, there are still those who find the notion of a cyber realm to participate in a bit outside their comfort zones.
“My personal details out there for everyone to see! People meddling in my business,” the fearful would cry. “It’s all too young for me! Invasion of privacy! Pointless!”
To some, the F-word (that’s Facebook) is a hotspot for snooping, Twitter is a black hole of 140-character snippets of self-obsession, blogging is for those who are only interested in their own opinions and don’t even get us started on Pinterest, Google+ and Flickr. Oh, and we’re not fooled, LinkedIn, we know you’re just Facebook in a suit and tie.
The hub of information
But let’s turn over the coin for a second. Facebook was humming with pictures of missing five-year-old April Jones from Machynlleth, with requests to pass on her parents’ plea for information as far and wide as possible, hours before news coverage had been put together and published or aired. It was the quickest channel to spread April’s picture and launch the tireless search for the little girl.
Twitter was equally on the ball, being the first platform to publish information – sometimes the judge’s words verbatim – from the courtroom during the case that convicted Mark Bridger of April’s murder. The BBC hadn’t even compiled its ‘Breaking News’ bulletin yet. …
It can’t be denied that the internet is an incredibly powerful and fast way to reach people and disseminate news. It also has tremendous potential for healthcare and can be invaluable for professionals working in the medical field.
The internet in itself has increased the speed at which new medical papers can be published and made available, as a lot of journals will provide a subscription area, where you can be amongst the first to read the most current research that is being undertaken – and the quickest to have your work published. A lot of big magazines and journals will be fiercely tweeting about new papers the second they are made available, so a Twitter presence is well worthwhile.
But Twitter’s hidden potential does not end there. A quick search can cough up all the mentions of say, bird flu or the recent spike in tuberculosis, which will contain a surprising amount of information.
You will get a good idea of the geography of incidences, you will find out worldwide thoughts and progressions on combating the disease, you will get news coverage bulletins and advice from professional health organisations on various aspects of treating and managing the ailment.
Best of all, it is all neatly packaged within the one search, within the one window, on the one site.
Social media present a great opportunity to network with other medical professionals as well, particularly Twitter, where anyone else is but a click of the ‘follow’ button away.
Organisations and companies network
Bodies such as the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have a Twitter feed and often post updates of new guidelines or give their official advice on treating current arising problems, or respond to news articles.
The @WHO feed, for example, has been tweeting advice on the use of bedaquiline to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis since TB’s recent rise in incidence.
Liaising with the people who manufacture the tools and technologies you use is also made all the more simple through venues such as Facebook and Twitter. Many of the companies you will come in contact with will have a group on Facebook you can ‘like’ for regular updates, and a feed on Twitter that you can follow.
These are not only a means to receive information, but you can also interact, whether you have a complaint, a suggestion for an improvement to a product or a question for a company.
The belle of the ball
Where communicating on an exclusively occupational level is concerned, however, let us present the belle of the ball: LinkedIn. This medium has exploded in popularity of late, and with good reason too.
Its professional capacity means that what you get is entirely the relevant information to your work interests and you will not be bombarded with people’s lunch menus, online rants or mundane musings. This space allows you to read only what is applicable and interesting to you, interact with colleagues, and ‘meet’ their connections to expand your network in a controlled manner.
If the networking potential isn’t exciting enough, you can become part of groups designed especially for people in your own medical specialty or particular area of interest and expertise, and you can contribute to online discussions on controversial issues as well as varying practices between practitioners or hospitals.
A group thread started by Dr Shafik Thobani, a clinical assistant professor working in Vancouver, in a group called ‘Practice of regional anesthesia’ sparked up a lively debate regarding whether converting epidural analgesia to a spinal block for caesarean sections is a better and safer alternative to topping up the epidural.
This one discussion drummed up worldwide interest, inviting comments from healthcare professionals from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, various parts of the USA, Venezuela, Spain, Pakistan and Qatar. Each of the commenting people is a member of the group, so will be alerted when a new discussion is started.
With such a geographical and cultural breadth, as well as the mix of professors, anaesthetists, consultants, OR directors and presidents of anaesthesiology societies, the practical exchange of advice and experience made this a virtual conference setting, but available as and when.
Specialists from different hospitals in different countries can exchange ideas without having to wait for the next congress or travel for miles; they can be sat in the comfort of their own living-rooms, in pyjamas if they are so inclined, and still gain the same level of interaction and input into any queries or unusual methods.
If you start your own group, you can monitor who is able to see the group discussions and manage who can join your group, if you prefer a more private environment, and you can analyse your group’s statistics to assess contributions from different member demographics, activity of the group and growth in numbers.
And as far as privacy is concerned, you can disclose as much or as little of yourself as you like online, it’s your prerogative.
Finally, for medical students and trainees, but also anyone who might be seeking employment, many jobs are publicised on LinkedIn directly by the employers, and this is a unique possibility to make an impression on the right people and show a keen interest in your field and the company.
There are numerous reasons why an online social presence is a useful idea and a valuable tool. Being on the ball with new products on the market, new research in journals, new jobs up for grabs and opportunities to network can keep you ahead of the curve in what can be a very competitive field. The F-word (and T- and L-words too) has grown to no longer be something to flinch at, but something to embrace.
Kamelia Kountcheva, assistant editor, Journal of Anaesthesia Practice.