Great Twitter guide for university research, teaching and impact activities from LSE

Just a few months ago, I was as sceptical to Twitter as I experience that many of my friends and fellow public health colleagues are. But as might have become apparent from this blog, my opinion on Twitter has changed and I now gladly follow live-tweeted surgery, I have been tweeting at conferences and used posts on this blog to recommend other blogs providing tips for researchers on ways they can use Twitter.

I guess  one could argue that Twitter is a little bit overrepresented on this blog and it is even my impression that many of my readers already know much more about the topic than I do. Despite these two facts I just had to share this Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities which was just published by LSE – London School of Economics and Political Science.

The guide sets out to give an answer to this question, which I have met from soooo many of my friends:

“How can Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per tweet, have any relevance to universities and academia, where journal articles are 3,000 to 8,000 words long, and where books contain 80,000 words? Can anything of academic value ever be said in just 140 characters?”

I think, this guide gives a really nice attempt to answer the question. It is with its 11 pages really very approachable. With a short and very straight forward introduction to what Twitter is, it also provides a quick step-by-step guide on how to set up an account and then it goes into detail on how Twitter + universities can be a useful cocktail, eg. by:

  • Using Twitter to maximise the impact of your research project
  • Staying connected within University departments
  • Making the most of Twitter alongside your own blog
  • Using Twitter for teaching purposes

In addition, there are great tips on ways/styles for using those 140 characters that a tweet allows for. There is a terminology list and a list of recommended tweeters from the world of academics developed by followers of LSE Impact Blog.

The tone of the guide is nice and relaxed but still with a University jargon feel to it. The ‘relaxness’ shows for example in its caution advice on using Twitter:

“It is best not to tweet if you’re feeling ratty late at night and never when drunk either! If you do happen to tweet anything you regret, you can find the delete button if you run your mouse over the offending tweet.”

Perhaps this can be useful for me in trying to explain to friends and colleagues why the sceptical view on Twitter perhaps should be reconsidered a bit.


Attending an awake brain surgery – through Twitter

Yesterday, I attended a neurosurgery of the brain in an epileptic patient. I was right there next to the patient, the surgeons, Dr. Morris and Dr. Dagam, and all the other staff. I could see how the layers of tissue were slowly removed to expose the brain and I know what the patient, who was awake during the operation, said. I really was there. However, I had not washed my hands thoroughly before, I was not wearing a mask. Actually, I was sitting in Plaza Nueva in Bilbao with a coffee and my laptop, taking advantage of free wi-fi. And I was on Twitter…

By chance, I came across this tweet:

Although I found it a bit over the top, I must say it got me curious, and before long I was actually pretty drawn to the live-tweets.

From the Regional Epilepsy Center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center (Aurora Health Care) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a live-tweet of an awake temporal lobectomy (read more about temporal lobectomy here) on the epileptic, 43-year-old Geoffery Nestor took place on September 27, 2011. The objective of the surgery was to remove a portion of the brain which causes the epileptic attacks. It is the most common type of epilepsy surgery and is also the most successful type.

Being quite certain that the surgeons had their hands full, the tweets were written by people from the hospital’s Social Media & Digital Communications, however present in the room and in close contact with both the patient and the doctors.

The tweets were in some cases accompanied by photos and varied between:

  • technical descriptions (eg. “Dr. Dagam anchors the dura to the cranial wall using sutures, allowing full & safe access to brain http://yfrog.com/khxtbdoj”),
  • descriptions of what was being done to the patient to keep him comfortable and stable,
  • but also comments from the awake patient Geoff (eg.”Geoff says to Dr. Morris: “Tell my wife I love her. And that this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.“).
  • In addition, and some of the tweets gave general statistics on the number of epileptic patients in the US, information about the operation and instruments used etc. All in all a good variation.

Using the hashtag #ahcneuro it was of course possible for the followers to comment, retweet etc. It was interesting to see for example how epilepsy patient organisations were retweeting and encouraging their followers to follow the surgery. Questions and comments raised to the tweeters were in most cases responded to which gave a very good and interactive feeling.

Although this was my first experience with live-tweeted surgeries, it is not the first of its kind. I haven’t been able to find out which was the first Twitter-broadcasted surgery, but a minor robotic cancer surgery in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in January 2009 seems to have been one of the first. Since then knee surgeries have been tweeted, kidney operations and most likely other operations have made it to Twitter. The phenomenon has in some cases even been given a name : Twurgery. Live-twitter surgeries have even made it to the television screens in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Judging from the website descriptions of the live-tweeting surgeries, the premise behind the events have been to give people an inside look at how an operation is performed, but in some cases also to display the advances that have been made in modern surgery. For example the Ohio State University Medical Center highlighted to following reasons to live tweet from a knee surgery:

  • First, the health system wanted to publicize the availability of the procedure, which it calls (pdf) MAKOplasty, to patients and referring physicians.
  • Second, the broadcasting and tweeting were another means of providing education to OSU medical students, particularly those interested in orthopedic

So far, I haven’t been able to identify live-twitter surgeries in hospitals outside the US, and I’m quite convinced that such an event have surely not taken place in a Danish operation room. Will it come? Well, I can’t really see why it shouldn’t. Of course things can always be miss used and there needs to be a clear objective and it does of course require consent from all parties involved. Learning from their experiences, some of the hospitals who have already tested live-tweeting have shared best practices and lessons-learned, which other hospitals might want to check out before sending tweeters into the operation rooms.

To me, if done in a proper manner, this is an interesting way to do science communication. Getting not just medical staff but also the rest of us into the operation room once in a while, is not such a bad idea. People working with public health also need to know what actually happens in an operation room. And with Twitter we can be there without being in the way, faint over the amount of blood or ask questions at inconvenient times. In stead we can be sitting on Plaza Nueva in Bilbao, Spain drinking a coffee..


“Social Media in Health and Medicine” at UBC followed from the sideline

As I have previously written about on this blog, the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia is now offering a course on Social Media in Health and Medicine.

The course is led by Dean Giustini who shares his presentation materials online. Since I am unfortunately not in Canada and can’t participate in the class, it is great to be able to follow it from the side. The presentation from the third week of the course was recently posted and focuses on Consumer (& public) health in social media.

The main topic for the session is on the citizens/consumers information gathering behavior when they are sick or need health information and the importance of not only literacy skills, but also media and social media literacy skills. Although primarily aimed at giving a quick overview, the presentation has good examples of where consumers seek information, how literacy skills become essential and examples of the continuum of new places to get health information online.


Social media – a tool to strengthen health systems and research collaboration in developing countries?

Having worked with public health issues in developing countries and even specifically with health systems, I just had to share this article, which I came across yesterday.

Use Social Media to Strengthen Health Systems by Alexander E. T. Finlayson, Katherine E.M. Hudson and Faisal R. Ali draws attention to the huge potential for researchers in developing countries to communicate and cooperate through social media.

Building research capacity in developing countries has been and still is a challenge and perhaps something that has been neglected. According to the authors strengthening research capacity is however increasingly becoming an aim in itself in efforts to improve health systems in developing countries. And one way to do that could be to take advantage of the possibilities in social media. In Nature Alexander E. T. Finlayson and his colleagues have recently for example argued for the use of Twitter to enhance collaboration between researchers in developing countries.

In general the authors draw attention to the mobile-phone revolution, which has taken place in developing countries, and literally bypassed fixed-line telephone and internet connections. Taking off from this revolution provides an opportunity to think creatively in terms of establishing collaboration not only between researchers but also in providing public health services to the people.

As is pointed out both in the article and in some of the comments on the article, social media will not be a magic fix and there are lots of challenges to take into account, but its potential in contributing to improving health systems as well as other public health issues in developing countries should not be disregarded.

Encouraging you to read the full article, here are however a few passages from the article, I find interesting

On the mobile revolution:

“With more than five billion subscriptions, mobile phones are now indispensable across the world. Mobile technology promises to transform global healthcare, especially in remote areas, by enabling direct interaction with patients, helping remote training of healthcare workers, and supporting the education of scientists.”

“… just as many African countries have bypassed fixed telephone lines to embrace mobile-phone networks, so healthcare systems can skip having paper records.It is highly likely that scientists in countries with limited resources will follow this pattern, perhaps bypassing traditional, and at times ineffective, research methodologies for more progressive approaches — including the use of social media — to addressing local priorities for biomedical research.”

On crowdsourcing:

“Unnecessary duplication of research is widespread in Western science, and competition for funds and publications risks breeding a culture of secrecy between scientists eager to protect their ideas. This is potentially problematic. But in developing countries, where resources are scarcer and research results are more critical to saving human lives, there should be even greater demand for a streamlined model of scientific cooperation.”

On the use of Twitter:

“… by leveraging the global nature of media such as Twitter, with a large audience and well-defined interest groups, individual scientists could find local collaborators working on similar problems with greater experience in specific areas of their work. By eliminating reams of redundancy from the scientific process, scientists in developing countries may be able to conduct research that is faster, better targeted to real problems, and has less duplication. And in the end, they could disseminate their results more efficiently.”


Social media in an area of public health: Palliative care

One of the advantages of the web and social networks is that it can bring together people with a very specific interest. People who would perhaps not have been connected otherwise, or who wouldn’t have been able to share knowledge and information outside for example conferences on the topic. And for those of us not being specialised in the topic, we would have a very limited chance of knowing what is new in that specific field.

I just came across a public health example of a specific area that are using social media to share knowledge. Pallimed – a hospice and palliative medicine blog is a blog that initially was developed to help keep track of interesting articles from many different journals that are relevant to palliative care. However, the blog expanded and soon also aimed to review media coverage of hospice and palliative care issues and thereby make it easier for the readers to orient themselves in what is new in Palliative care. It provides a forum for people to discuss and a good starting point for obtaining further information (eg. through lists, links, presentations etc.).

The authors are primarily people with a medical background, but the blog is aimed at interdisciplinary health care professionals in hospice and palliative care. Secondary, it also has patients, families, media, other disciplines and specialties interested in palliative care as their audience.

In a blog post, arguments for Why palliative care needs social media are given as well as a guide on how to use social media to advance palliative care. Besides the different articles/posts on the many many aspects of palliative care, the blog has an extensive list of Hospice and Palliative Medicine blogs.

Not only being of use to people working with Palliative care, I find it thrilling that others (like me) can read along. I can get a feel of what is happening in the area and potentially identify people, researchers I could contact, if I needed more information.

The topics and level of complexity varies in the different posts on Pallimed. From more complex articles (eg. Denosumab, palifermin and the cost of supportive cancer care) to slightly more approachable articles like LIFE Before Death Short Films – Week 10 of 50, drawing attention to a larger project entitled LIFE Before Death and events in relation to that.

One thing I have not been able to find out about Pallimed is how internationally founded it is. Is this only or mostly an US initiative or does it reach across continents and countries? Going across not only disciplines but also nations, universities, cities would give a broad and comprehensive picture of palliative care and hospices and only make sense since this is one of the advantages of web2.0.

Taking a broader public health perspective, it would be wonderful if other areas of public health could set up blogs and websites like this. Perhaps, or rather more likely, there are already some out there, but I might need some help finding them. Therefore all tips and recommendations are of course more than welcome.

For those interested in Pallimed here are also links to their presence on Twitter and Facebook


Blog post recommendation: How to use Twitter at your next medical conference

I have a few times now written about Twitter and its use in relation to research (eg. the post 10 Ways Researchers Can Use Twitter and my own Twitter experiences at Science Online London 2011). Following up on this I thought I’d just recommend a blog post I came across today. The post is entitled How to use Twitter at your next medical conference.

In the article, Christian Sinclair, a blogger at KevinMD.com, gives a quick overview of how Twitter can be used at medical conferences, but the list applies to any kind of conference. Twitter can for example be a good initiator of discussions and to interact with eg. the moderator of panel discussions. It can be a useful tool to identify people working in the same area as yourself and set up meetings during the breaks, but also as a tool to capture information during the presentations and share it with not only others but also yourself after the conference where you can refer back to your tweets.

Admitted, it is hard to explain and understand how using Twitter during a conference actually works, but I think this blog post highlights some good points, and most of them reflect very much my first experiences with the recipe of Twitter+Conference.

I look forward to seeing this used in Public Health conferences. Perhaps it will even play a role at the upcoming European Public Health Conference which will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, 9-11 November 2011. At least they have a Twitter account (with so far 10 followers), and who knows there might even be a hashtag for the conference at some point….


Medify: Translating PubMed and Medline to patients and other non-reseachers

It doesn’t take one long to experience that the web is swamped with health related sites. Fora, databases, groups, networks, patient blogs, health expert blogs etc. It is a bit of a jungle and it just seems like the jungle grows everyday. Even though some of all these initiatives turns out not to be sustainable they still ‘hang around’ and pop up in searches etc despite functionally being dead.

Today, I came across yet another health related website. Medify.com. It is a quite new initiative aimed at making searches in health research more easily available, but getting my head around what it actually is, what it aims to do and how it works is a little challenging. Is this one of these new initiatives that will drown in all the others or is there something to it?

What is it really?

Finding out what Medify actually is has been a little challenging, since the website description doesn’t make it quite clear to me:.

Medify is building the best place online to discover what really works for people who are managing important health situations. Our goal is simple: to help you and your family more easily navigate, stay current, and manage the often complex process of finding answers, while empowering you to get help from those you most trust. Unlike many other health information websites, everything on Medify is 100% vetted by Medical researchers.

Okay, so far so good. So the objective is to help to make searches for scientific health data easier? Am still a little confused on who the target groups is however. Patients, researchers, others?

Turning to see how others have described Medify helps a little. On the website Medicine and Technology an article by Thuc Huynh, MD describes is like this:

Finding reputable health information online is no easy task. Do a search for “medical research” on google and you’ll get 101 million web pages. Narrow it down to a disorder like “acne medical research” and you still get 3.5 million hits. Medify believes they have an answer. Their website aggregates data from well-known research facilities like the National Institute of Health and then extracts key information from research articles to create an organized, easy to understand summary page equipped with interactive graphics. From there, users can quickly compare the thousands of research articles by a number of variables. [read the full article here]

So keywords here seem to be data aggregation, summary information, interactive graphs and the possibility of comparing.

Returning to Medify’s own website a more detailed description of how the website works and what it does is given under “How it works”:

Every day, thousands of leading researchers, physicians and medical institutions worldwide study patients with health conditions. They publish their findings – often with real patient data and detail on what worked for them – in research studies to promote the advancement of medicine. Medify has developed powerful technology to mine millions of these studies every day in order to “extract” key information about the patients in each study. Similar patients across studies are combined and their experiences organized around the topics you care about: conditions, treatments, experts, and hot research issues.

Topics, experts, number of patients

So technically what do you do? I tried doing a search on “Measles”. The search gave me an overview of 1) the treatments and causes most studied (that is in this case “Mass vaccination”); 2) Which experts/research institutes/universities that have done the most studies on measles; 3) what the current hot reasearch topics within measles are; and 4) what new patient studies have been published. For all four categories a total number of patient included in the studies is given. And I can choose to have the information illustrated in different graphics (bubbles, graphs, lists – see example below) Through the search I can click my way to the studies that are identified through MEDLINE®/PubMed® (however only abstracts and other basic information, but with colour coding helping to help understand the content).

An additional function, which I however have not explore so much yet, is that you can personalise your searches and create personal pages with a support community where you can add your friends and family.

Translating medical research search engines

I find the website a little confusing, at least to begin with and the whole concept of focusing on how many patients have been studied a little bit aggressive. Despite this I do see some value of the website, especially for the very empowered patient who wants to and has the will to familiarise him/herself with all the latest scientific research. The website does not aim at translating scientific knowledge other than giving a sort of overview. But what it does do is translate search engines like PubMed and Medline into something more approachable for the newcomer to medical research. It gives a quick overviews of key words in the research for that particular disease or treatment and hints to which are the leading research institutions and researchers in the field. The comparison function is a little bit more unclear, but I guess it through its listings makes comparisons of what treatments are being researched the most, where most published research is taking place etc.

All in all, an interesting website or perhaps rater a refined search engine and undoubtfully useful to some. It is not a social platform and there is no communication taking place other than what you can create in you personal support community and the fact that you can interact with the website and choose your own prefered illustration of data etc. But then again, not everything has to be so web2.0….

Who’s behind Medify? The Seattle-based company started out with a private beta in April 2011 and Medify was launched publicly in August 2011. Medify has a group  advisors including doctors from ADAM, United Healthcare, McKesson, and Healthgrades. The company recently received $1.8 million dollars in Series A funding from angel investors and Voyager capital.