Instant Information: The Real Appeal of Social Networking

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Media , February 17, 2009

He can also ask specific questions of the surgeon as they come across his laptop screen, says Ferris. "The fact that this allows for interactivity as well as an archive for future review, are both important components. We recognize that we don't have it all figured out, I think we learned from this that we would like to incorporate video and more multimedia, but overall it's generated some really positive buzz."

Buzz aside, just how useful Twitter and the like will be in terms of formal medical education remains to be seen. Right now a physician isn't going to get CME credit, for example, simply by asking a question during a Twittered surgery. But Lawrence Sherman, president and chief executive officer of the Physicians Academy for Clinical and Management Excellence, an accredited provider of CME/CPD, says even slow adopters are beginning to see the value of social networking sites when it comes to education.

"Currently, the main value we're seeing is with peer-to-peer communication. As a CME provider I've been looking at different ways to use social media and incorporate it into CME. There are strict guidelines about what qualifies and simply tweeting without a needs assessment isn't going to cut it," he says. "However, I do think there are other ways to use social media and CME. For example, public and proprietary social media sites are good for making CME announcements or for tweeting from activities for people who can't get there."

And therein lies the real strength of sites like Twitter and Facebook. Whether they are ever recognized formally by accrediting agencies for their educational value, the peer-to-peer educational and networking opportunities offered by them should not be underestimated.

Take my own experience writing this column, for example. Friday morning at 10:00 a.m., I wrote on Twitter that I was "Writing my column for this week. Topic: social media in healthcare." Within 30 minutes I had a message from Joel Selzer, co-Founder and CEO of Ozmosis Inc., (which has a great blog on the use of social networking in healthcare) offering to answer any questions I had for the column. By noon, Joel had kindly introduced me via email to Sherman who informed me he had just landed in L.A. and I should call him at his hotel. In the space of two hours I had two new contacts and had completed an interview. For someone who is used to spending hours trying to track people down, hoping they have something relevant to say about the topic at hand, this was nothing short of miracle.

This kind of instant access to experts is exactly what Henry Ford offered with its Twittered surgery, and I can only hope that more hospitals will follow in their footsteps.

Kathryn Mackenzie is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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