Social Media and Medicine – a Match Made in Heaven?


This is a guest post by Dr. David Kerr and Dr. Lior Tamir. Their views do not necessarly express those of MedCrunch.

Over the past few years, the only topic worth discussing in the technology town has been social media. This is hardly surprising given that this new form of communication has the attractive element of immediacy. As the content is user generated content from “someone like me” it has the potential for facilitating behavior change, something that can be extraordinarily difficult when dealing with chronic medical and social problems. The rapidity of the development and uptake of social media has been exceptional so today, everyone has the opportunity to be a publisher on any subject.

Fifty years ago there was concern that machines would one-day replace doctors. Instead it seems that the social media machine has re-humanized the medical experience by creating a opportunity to share details of an individual’s personal relationship with their illness or medication. Previously, this intimate knowledge was obtainable only at clinic visits, and dependent upon memory for events. With platforms such as Twitter and Facebook patients can record “now moments”. If included in clinical trial protocols, these platforms would allow research subjects to log accurately adverse events as they happen.
The application of social media could be extended even further. At present, most social sites exist to provide a forum to share experiences. Instead of having a structure that directs discussion to an expert authority, who in turn, oversees the content for accuracy and value, flagging irrelevant or potentially dangerous information, the current platforms are in truth a free-for-all. Patient confidentiality remains the major concern for clinicians, medical drug and device industries and the regulatory authorities. Consequently consumers rather that providers are driving the development of social media platforms.

What about working with the new media in novel and valuable construct? The idea would be to engage all the players; clinicians, patients and industry. Users would complete a registration process and access a secure cloud. Individual disease, devices and medications would have a distinct information page with customized categories and questions relevant to a patient experience. Content would be assessed through an open on-line peer-review process and use material beyond the written word to minimize the potential for exclusion because of literacy or numeracy unmet needs.

In regards to security, a state of the art medical history and medication tracking profile would be developed which could be accessible only by patients and their registered healthcare providers. Patients would document their medical history and be prompted to directed to pages relevant to their condition. They would be able to leave comments, answer questions and upload photos and videos to custom categories such as ‘day-to-day’, ‘personal stories’ and ‘therapy’. They would also be able to vote on submissions from others. In addition, by using game mechanics a patient’s interaction would be tracked in their personal profile and be ranked according to voting. Complex game mechanics could be implemented track how long a patient has been taking a specific medication, their disease duration and their “expertness” to quantify their credibility when they comment or share content on the site.

Registered clinicians would provide feedback and also vote on content. The clinician’s vote would be weighted and they would have the role of an overseeing authority to ensure that the content is relevant and safe. In turn, clinicians would be scored, the results of which would be in the public domain. The more questions and comments each clinician answered or voted upon, the higher their score would be. The clinician with the highest score would become the ‘expert’ for a particular disease or condition unless dethroned. They would benefit by enhancing their brand value in a completely transparent system.

Today the question that is usually asked regarding the value of social media is how much is the return on investment? This is the wrong question to ask because social media is about engagement, sharing of information, analysis of data and participant behavior. These outcomes have huge value for medical practice beyond financial return

A wise man once said, “There’s no such thing as fact anymore. The closest thing we have to fact is common opinion” – facts have vale, the interpretation and application of the knowledge is what really matters in medicine.

Lior Tamir, DDS is a passionate technology entrepreneur who has been involved in several medical and technology related ventures. Currently he serves as the Founder and CEO of oLyfeMD, a new startup in San Francisco doing social search in a brand new way. He has extensive experience consulting for telemedicine related ventures in the fields of Diabetes Monitoring and Dentistry and continues to apply his expertise in medicine and technology to develop innovative new tools.

David Kerr, MD is a Consultant Physician in General Medicine and Diabetes at Bournemouth Diabetes and Endocrine Centre as well as Visiting Professor Bournemouth University. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Diabetes Digest in the UK and is currently on sabbatical in the US working as Managing Editor of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published numerous articles on technology for diabetes care and teaches widely on the topic across Europe and beyond.

The Silicon Valley influence has clearly rubbed off as he is trying to create a new venture specifically for people living with chronic disease. Outside of work he really should give up playing squash.


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