Editor's Note: When Bob West wrote to us last year and said he would be stepping aside at the end of his current term on our External Advisory Board, we asked if he'd be willing to share some reflections from his experience in our network. Here's what he had to say:
Over the course of my professional life in science and medicine I’ve had the privilege of experiencing many career thrills, but one of the greatest joys has been my affiliation with the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN), formerly the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media (MCCSM).
This began in the late Fall of 2010 when I submitted an application to Lee Aase requesting consideration as a member of this newly formed organization’s external advisory board (EAB). I was very interested, not only because of the reputation of Mayo Clinic, but because I saw considerable value in the power of social media to impact healthcare delivery.
Social media at that time was fairly new for most professional organizations, particularly in science, medicine and healthcare. I began using Twitter (@westr )professionally in early 2010, with my very first tweet on February 22, 2010:
As a geneticist and molecular biologist by training, with a special interest in genomics and personalized (precision) medicine, in order to keep up with the latest research being done at universities across the country, it was prudent to adopt Twitter as a routine communication tool. All of the latest breaking news, newly published journal articles, recently submitted manuscripts, and key conversations were being shared by Twitter.
Even in 2010, however, the Twitter community of scientists was still fairly small, and tweeps had a leg up on non-tweeps, particularly in academic science, medicine, and healthcare circles.
As a tenured faculty member at an upstate New York medical school, SUNY Upstate Medical University, I was well-positioned to capitalize on the use of Twitter in academic medicine. And as a newly appointed Advisory Dean at our medical school, where I guided medical students through many of the steps and hardships encountered in the course of becoming a physician, I had become well-versed in both general and specific aspects of medical education.
Completing a 3-legged experience stool, I’d had an above-average history being a professional patient, including life-long asthma and allergy, starting as a young child, as well as a recent, difficult-to-diagnose and rather severe chronic pain condition.
The combination of training as a research scientist, medical educator, and life-long patient provided me with a unique perspective for understanding the value of social media in the healthcare arena. This background proved to be uncommon in the early days of social media, where experience played a significant role in establishing credibility, and ultimately, social influence (a topic for another day).
Social Media Revolution in Healthcare
At the dawn of the social media revolution, healthcare was ripe for change. Predominant among the shortcomings being debated in social media circles was the stifling patronizing attitude of doctors and other healthcare professionals toward their patients. Also front and center was the fact that healthcare was one of the few professional industries still relying on paper as a mode of information storage and transmission, rather than digital storage and communication methods.
Social media played a significant role in perpetuating discussion on such issues. One key venue for this involved Twitter chats. One of the earliest Twitter chats to play a major role in this area, particularly toward advancing the agenda of newly empowered patients, was the #HCSM (HealthCare Social Media) chat. In 2010, #HCSM was one of the few avenues available for interaction among colleagues across the healthcare spectrum. #HCSM was founded and is still moderated by Dana Lewis, a first-gen MCSMN EAB member.
#HCSM served as both a watering hole and a springboard for everyone who had any inclination toward improving healthcare delivery by any method possible. This led to an exponential increase in healthcare-centric social networks, new and more specialized disease-specific Twitter chats (#BCSM, #LCSM , #HPM , etc), non disease-specific Twitter chats with complementary roles in healthcare (#HCLDR, #HITsm , #MedEd , etc.), and much, much more.
There was such expansive growth of healthcare hashtags, with concomitant powerful underlying metrics, that upstart companies were created to track them and mine their data. One key example of such an upstart company is Symplur, which created the Healthcare Hashtags Project.
The excitement around this new technology was palpable. MCCSM (forerunner of MCSMN) was launched around the same time as #HCSM , and most of the first edition of EAB members were occasional if not regular participants in #HCSM Twitter chats. It was a natural symbiosis to have MCCSM Annual Summits and other meetings being live tweeted using the #MCCSM hashtag, often along with #HCSM , as well as #MayoRagan (co-sponsor of many of the early MCCSM Annual Summits).
With MCSMN, Mayo Clinic set out with the explicit goal to establish best practices for social media use by its own employees, and to encourage its use to advance the proper practice of medicine. As Lee tells it, the Mayo brothers themselves were the original instigators of innovation￼ necessary to provide the best possible medical care to patients, and not just local ones, but across America and around the world.
This unique objective of theirs at the time cemented Mayo’s reputation as a world-class healthcare organization. Thus, in establishing best practices for their own doctors and allied healthcare professionals, they essentially assumed responsibility for best practices at healthcare organizations worldwide.
Further background on Mayo Clinic and its social media history are available elsewhere on this website, and in the MCSMN publication (free download) Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care.
Twitter as a Teaching Tool
Uses of Twitter and other social media venues for purposes other than conversation and information sharing became readily apparent around the same time MCCSM and #HCSM were born. It became immediately clear to me in 2010, for example, that Twitter would be a great teaching tool for use in a new medical elective I began offering at SUNY Upstate, called “Personalized Medicine 101”, abbreviated PM101.
Rather than maintaining private course documents as historically done, lesson plans (with slides), research publications, etc., were shared on Twitter using the hashtag #PM101. Personalized medicine itself was still quite new in 2010, so to be evangelizing this topic via the #PM101 hashtag helped put Syracuse on the map, along with discussion of personalized medicine among medical academic circles (some of which I’ve documented in my dossier posted on LinkedIn). Here's the very first #PM101 tweet:
Although I have since retired from my academic position of 30 years at SUNY Upstate, I continue to use #PM101 today as a method of evangelizing our national evolution into better healthcare through a personalized and precision clinical approach. Our nation’s medical establishment still is not readily convinced of newer and better approaches to patient care, and back in 2010, genomics and personalized medicine were an especially hard sell. That’s slowly changing, for the benefit of all. Social media played a pivotal role in expediting the necessary healthcare modernization transition.
A Genomics Professor is Added to EAB Membership
￼￼Twitter was used in a far more parochial manner in 2010 compared to the present time, but my considerable social media experience and exposure by the Fall of 2010 was evident enough to prompt Lee to take a hard look at my application for EAB membership. For the sake of professional diversity, I believe, and based on my academic background, and experience with Twitter and other social media venues, I was accepted into MCSMN EAB membership in January of 2011.
I was ecstatic about being included as an EAB member, and very grateful to this day for the opportunity to serve along with other outstanding EAB members in this esteemed organization.
Editor's Note: Next week we'll publish the rest of Bob's reflections, including some photos from his participation in several of our summits.