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Peer-to-peer health care, e-patients, tweets: Medicine 2.0 showcases technology’s promise

Article / Review by on September 26, 2011 – 6:02 pmNo Comments

Peer-to-peer health care, e-patients, tweets: Medicine 2.0 showcases technology’s promise 

A small group of physicians and patients have started to use social networking and other emerging technologies to enhance health care, but in the coming years these tools will become staples of medical practice.

Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, who blogs for Seattle Children’s Hospital,Hospital, was one of dozens of speakers at Medicine 2.0 on Sept. 16-18.

Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, who blogs for Seattle Children’s Hospital,Hospital, was one of dozens of speakers at Medicine 2.0 on Sept. 16-18.

 That was the message that Susannah Fox delivered in her closing remarks for Medicine 2.0, an international conference held the weekend of Sept. 16-18 at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

“What we see is the confluence of two forces,” said Fox, associate director of Digital Strategy for the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “Number one is the ancient instinct that we have to seek and share advice about health, and the second force is that we now have the social tools available to make that happen at Internet speed and at Internet scale.”

Fox delivered her speech to a crowd of over 400 attendees at the Medicine 2.0 Congress, which launched in 2008 in Toronto and was this year making its U.S. debut. Attendees came from 28 countries and six continents. The event was organized by Lawrence Chu, MD, associate professor of anesthesia, and his Anesthesia Informatics and Media Lab, with support from the medical school communications office. Stanford Hospital & Clinics and the Department of Anesthesia sponsored the events. Gunther Eysenbach, MD, is the founder of the congress.

It began Sept. 16 with the Stanford Summit @ Medicine 2.0, a one-day plenary session that featured presentations from medical industry innovators and scholars about how to leverage web-based tools to deliver leading-edge and coordinated care that is personalized. Many examined ways that technology can strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and vastly enhance patients’ abilities to play a larger role in their care. And there were concrete examples of how individual physicians are finding new ways to communicate.

Seattle pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, who blogs for Seattle Children’s Hospital, talked about how she combined scientific research with personal anecdotes in her blogs to educate patients, alleviate their concerns and foster trust. She called for all physicians to begin using social media to improve the quality of health information on the Internet and to engage patients. And that can mean getting more personal.

“We all need to share our stories,” she said, referring, for instance, to how she told patients about her decision to vaccinate her children. “We have to get out there the minute that someone says something wrong and be voices of reason.”

The problem, as Swanson pointed out, is that doctors often don’t have the time or financial incentive to blog or interact with patients and the public using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Insurance billing policies don’t currently compensate doctors for using such online communication tools to engage with patients. This issue needs to be addressed, she said.

“Why can’t the insurance company pay me to make a great video about car seat safety that patients could watch at their convenience? Why do I have to say it privately in the exam room 16 times a day?” she added. “In order to build strong partnerships with patients, the system must work differently.”

After the summit, the next two days offered an array of scientific sessions in which academicians discussed efforts to advance the science of the use of social media and web-based applications in health care and medicine. Stanford business professor Jennifer Aaker, PhD, opened the research-focused portion of the conference with a keynote address about leveraging social media to inspire people to take small, individual steps that snowball into significant social change.

“Most revolutions are sparked by the actions of a few ordinary people,” said Aaker. “One small individual act when amplified can create big change.”

Aaker, who admitted she was initially skeptical about social media, shared the story of Stanford undergraduate Sameer Bhatia and his friend Vinay Chakravarthy, two young South Asian men who’d been diagnosed with leukemia and urgently needed bone marrow transplants. With social media, they reached out to friends and family and registered nearly 25,000 South Asians into the bone marrow registry in just 11 weeks. They found donor matches for both men. The story inspired Aaker and her husband to author the Dragonfly Effect. In memory of Bhatia and Chakravarthy, Aaker spearheaded the 100,000 Cheeks campaign, which aims to increase the number of people enrolled in the international bone marrowregistry by 100,000. (It’s called “cheeks” because swabs from cheeks are used as the genetic samples needed for the registry.)

Swanson, the Seattle pediatrician, was on Twitter after Aaker’s talk and tweeted: “Absolutely stunning talk by Jennifer Aaker at [Medicine 2.0]. I’m quiet. I’m happy. But more, she made me feel my dreams are possible.” Swanson was one of 830 people participating in a real-time conversation about the conference on Twitter that is estimated to have generated more than 2 million impressions over the three days.

In her closing remarks, Fox reminded the audience that many roadblocks remain to achieving the potential of peer-to-peer health care. Technology is often not designed to be user-friendly, intuitive or fun to use. There’s a lack of awareness about social media. Online patient communities and networking tools are typically silos of information. Certain segments of the public don’t have computer or Internet access. And many people are not proactive in their health care.

But she underscored that these could be overcome as the new technology taps into a deep source of information.

“Peer-to-peer health care acknowledges that patients and caregivers know things about themselves, about each other and about treatments. Technology can help to surface and organize that knowledge to make it useful for as many people as possible. We’ve heard this weekend about a lot of applications that bring this to light.”

* Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions – Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

**  The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Stanford University School of Medicine 


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