Inflation in teachings on social media in Danish Health care

Judging from the number of courses, guidelines etc. on the use of social media in health care, Denmark is now also becoming aware that there is something to it. The Danish Medical Association just published an advisory guide to their members on how to deal with social media, and “Dagens Medicin“, a Danish newspaper for health professionals, is offering a one-day course on social media in the health sector. An almost identical half-day course is offered by the Medicademy (an international educational program by The Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry) which focuses on how the pharmaceutical industry can use social media in their communication. Both courses come at a quite heavy fee of 2700 DKK per person (475 USD).

A communication expert and case stories

The two courses are very similar in their structure and speakers – and price. Both courses have a broader social media expert as their first speaker. It is not a person from the health sector, but communication specialist Elisabeth Tissot Ludvig, who is director of a private communication and PR company specialising in Health Care Communication. Elisabeth Tissot is also an occasional blogger [in Danish] at The Danish Medical Bulletin, where she blogs about Danish medical doctors’ communication habits.

The two courses offer various speakers from the health sector who according to the programme will share experiences in using social media in relation to their profession. This includes a blogging doctor; a researcher in patient blogs; a nurse who have used social media in recruitment of personal; and a pharmaceutical company’s use of apps in communicating with patients. Through these examples it is the objective of both courses to spread knowledge of social media and its potential role in the Danish health care and pharmaceutical sector.

Focus on legal issues, not much about science communication

At both courses and in the folder from the Danish Medical Association, legal aspects of the use of social media play a mayor role. A lawyer will present legal restrictions in using social media in a health context. The guide from the Danish Medical Association is almost entirely focused on legal issues and advice on what not to do or avoid doing when online. The advice is sound enough, because of course there are issues to be aware of when communication, regardless of what media is used. I miss, however, some words on what social media could be useful for. Examples of benefits of being online as a medical doctor or other health care personnel. The folder seems to be mostly fear driven and not very balanced on potential advantages for doctors to go online.

Twitter, which I myself find to a kind of glue that connects the different kinds of social media and attach it to traditional media, is only briefly mentioned in the course offered by Dagens Medicin. Here Twitter will be presented by a popular comedian. Of course there can be an intention to add a more light and less formal speaker to the programme, but seen from my perspective it is a shame that a health related tweeter couldn’t be invited.

Another thing I miss in the programme is how social media can be used in research and in research communication. Research is an integrated part of the Danish health system and it would have been interesting to have added social media’s role in science communication to the programme. But perhaps that is an entire course in itself…

Regardless, the guide from the Danish Medical Association and the two courses, indicate that social media in relation to health care is an emerging issue also an Denmark. If not among the older generation then surely among the younger generation of doctors, nurses, researchers, public health specialist etc. who have grown up with social media as a natural part of their lives.


The challenge of communicating science communication

How do you communicate the relevance of science communication to a fellow public health person? Can I make a convincing argument for why things such as Twitter can be a useful tool in the communication of research?

In the days leading up to Christmas, I was challenged by these exact questions, when I after dinner had an interesting discussion with a good friend and skillful researcher in public health sciences. I am not sure that I gave the best arguments for science communication or for why Twitter could be useful for his research, but it made me reflect on where the scepticism, which many researcher have towards communication of research, comes from.

Based on my own experience, both as a public health expert and in talking with friends and public health colleagues, it is my feeling that most of us, through our university studies have indirectly been taught that communication is something that comes at the end of a research project. It is to a large extend perceived as a separate element that is added as the final phase of a very often long process. It sort of becomes a sometimes troublesome appendix which can be prioritized  – if time and money permits and if the communication department will take much of the responsibility on their shoulders (although they are worried that the communication department will simplify every thing too much and they’d therefore almost rather that they didn’t communicate it at all).

Another source to the scepticism against the communication element of research, is that communication is often considered in its more narrow form, meaning that it only covers communication to the general public. It is very much one-way based and it is about making simple messages which, seen from the researcher’s perspective are oversimplifications.

My basis for the above is purely my own experiences and conversations with different researchers in various fields. However, it is my impression that I’m not alone in suggesting that the issues above mentioned are two important barriers for researchers enthusiasm for science communication.

I have the last couple of days been working on a description for a short course on Public Health Science Communication, which most likely will be offered to students of Public Health Science at University of Copenhagen in the fall semester of 2012. My pre-Christmas conversations have been useful for this work. What was it that didn’t work in my argument? Did we talk past each other? Could awareness of the role of science communication earlier on in our public health training have made a difference? All these questions and more are buzzing around in my head.

Some of the things I feel will be important to communicate in a course on public health science communication are:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Communication is broader than explaining your research to a general public, but also involves communicating with fellow researchers, researches in the periphery of our area of our research and from completely different fields (actually public health has an advantage here, because we are by definition interdisciplinary and used to working with people with very different educational backgrounds)
  4. Communication is not equal to dissemination. Communication is two-way based – a with contributions and response from both sender and receiver.
  5. The person best equipped to know what is of relevance to communicate and to whom is the researcher him/herself.

I’m sure I’ll think of lots of other messages and luckily there is still plenty of time to prepare. All inputs of things to cover in a course on public health science communication are more than welcome, suggestions on good background reading material etc. likewise.