A true School of Public Health 2.0: “Social Media in Health and Medicine” at University of British Colombia

Although it has been a while since I finalised the last courses of my Public Health Sciences Masters degree and although I wouldn’t give up any of the classes I followed, I must admit that I felt like going back to school when I by coincidence (well, actually through Twitter) became aware of what sounds like an awesome course at the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia.

The course, entitled “Social Media in Health and Medicine“, is the first university course I have come across that focuses specifically on Social media and health. It aims to bring the participants attention to technologies and research associated with social media usage in health and medicine. The basis for offering the course is the acknowledgement that social media is changing how health practitioners, researchers and consumers find, share and discuss health information, contribute their understanding to health and manage information in the digital age. (For more see the detailed course outline)

The course is led by Dean Giustini, who is a reference librarian at the Biomedical Branch Library and from its description the course is laid out to be very much a hands‐on course where students will work directly with social media and decide how new communication practices can fit into their future work. This choice of methodology seems only natural since social media is all about being social and actively communicate, discuss and share – and you learn that much easier if you actually practice it and get your fingers into it. The students are to both microblog, blog, use wikipedia and the course is being refined collaboratively on the HLWIKI Canada SPPH 581H – Social media in health & medicine page.

Being a class on social media it is, even when not a student in the class, possible to follow it online. Using the using the hashtag #spph581h it can be followed on Twitter and through the blog of Dean Giustini, the presentations are made available on slideshare (see the presentation from first session here).

A School of Public Health 2.0?

Although not flashed on the website of the School of Population and Public Health, the University of British Colombia does seem to be a University taking advantage of the offers of web 2.0. The university has its own blog central where both teachers and students are encouraged to create groups, stay in touch and discuss. Although there are lots of half empty blogs etc it seems a good forum and starting point for getting experience with social media in relation to academic life. Offering the class of Social Media in Health and Medicine definitely qualifies the School of Population and Public Health at University of British Colombia to call themselves a School of Public Health 2.0 in my book.

I myself look forward to learning more of the course and research a bit on the background for offering the course, selecting the topics and inviting speakers. The world, or perhaps one should say the universe, of social media is so broad and diverse also when it comes to health and deciding on where to focus, which examples to highlight is a BIG job.

I hope to be able to follow it on Twitter and perhaps some of the student blogs if they are public. Until then, I hope that this can serve as inspiration to other schools of Public Health. There may be a lot we still don’t know or can predict about social media, but one thing we do know is that it can not be disregarded in general or in relation to public health!

A public health community on LinkedIn

Under the headline ‘Global health and social media don’t mix. Says who?’ The Global Public Health group on LinkedIn announced yesterday that 10,000 people from across the world are now members.

I am one of the 10,000 members and all though I have had my LinkedIn profile for many years I just joined the Global Public Health group about four months ago. I did not have very high hopes for theses LinkedIn groups (I also join a group called Health 2.0) but I must say that my prejudice have been proven wrong. The groups I have joined are indeed very active and contains a bunch of people who are ready to share their knowledge, ideas, contacts etc.

As a participant at Science Online London 2011 last week I encountered participants who shook their head when they heard that LinkedIn was actively being used. But as others rightly pointed out LinkedIn has become a very useful network platform for some areas. I just didn’t know that this applied to Public Health too.

Through the two groups I have established contacts to people interested in the same topics as my self, I have been given great references to articles, project and initiatives and I have entered into separate communication with people I did not know of before and have never met, but who have done an effort to help me out. All in all, a very good experience. I do not know if LinkedIn is the most optimal platform, but it seems to work and people are here and actively participating, which makes it a social network. And it proves that Global Public Health and social media can mix. Lots of more mixing can surely happen, but this is a good starting point for newcomers to using social media as part of their public health professional life.

The Global Public Health group has 12 sub-groups covering specific topics such as maternal and reproductive health, social determinants, health finance and economics. The group has recently changed to an open group, so daily discussions can be read by anyone. The group Health 2.0 is closed, which means that you have to join it to be able to follow the discussions.

In the menu bar of LinkedIn it is under ‘groups’ also possible to get recommendations on groups one might find interesting. This reveals that there are several public health related but topic specific groups and organisation specific groups out there. Some bigger than others of course, but surely worth the time to go through.

Just like Facebook, Google+ etc. LinkedIn now also have apps for iPhone and Android.

From a baker’s shop to Twitter: a new Public Health Journal Club emerges

The world is now a public health journal club richer! And this is a club not restricted to people in a specific university, from a particular workplace or with a special diploma. Everyone is free to actively join or follow it from the sidelines. Inspired by the first Twitter Journal Club, which focuses on research in clinical medicine, a Public Health Twitter Journal Club has now been set up.

The concept is just as for a regular journal club. It is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in scientific literature. Journal clubs are usually organized around a defined subject, in this case Public Health. The clubs are commonly used by students. They can help students become more familiar with the advanced literature in their new field of study and improve the their skills of understanding and debating current topics of active interest in their field. But also for non-students is a good way to keep up with the literature and developments within one’s academic field.

Sir James PagetDiscovering this new journal club made me wonder when the first journal clubs saw daylight. According to Wikipedia a British surgeon, Sir James Paget was the first to describe a group at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in the mid-19th century as “a kind of club … a small room over a baker’s shop near the Hospital-gate where we could sit and read the journals.”

Sir William OslerThe first formalized journal club was supposedly established by a Sir William Osler at McGill University in Montreal i 1875, with the original purpose as follows  “for the purchase and distribution of periodicals to which he could ill afford to subscribe.”

I wonder what Sir James and Sir William would say about this new journal club on Twitter. At least William Osler should be happy about the chance to discuss scientific article with colleagues around the world without having to use money for travel. And he would probably applaud that The Public Health Twitter Journal Club gives priority to articles published in open-access journals.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a Twitter journal club a “how it works” can be read at the original Twitter Journal Club. A quick recap is also given here. With a Twitter account everyone is free to follow the Twitter journal club chat. To follow and contribute to the discussion use the #PHTwitJC hashtag in your tweets. By searching for this in Twitter you can follow the discussion and contribute your self by adding the hashtag to you comments. The discussion takes place for about an hour at an agreed time. The people behind the journal club suggests discussions points to guide the talk. Soon after the discussion a transcript of the discussion and a summary can be found at the journal club website.

Launched 18 July 2011, so far only one article have been discussed. A BMJ article Impact of calorie labelling on fast food purchases. The article to be discussed next time is up for a vote. Everyone can make their voice heard and vote for one of the suggested articles or come up with other recommendations.

Having just gone on-air the Public Health Twitter Journal Club t is still new and knowledge of its existence limited (to date 132 are following it on Twitter). But as more and more public health people hopefully become acquainted with it and actively takes part in it, it can provide the basis for interesting public health discussions. A chance to conduct post-peer-review and perhaps expand ones network. And who knows perhaps the author will take part in the discussion or at least read it afterwards. The later being one of the added values of a Twitter journal club compared to the closed journal clubs that takes place inside buildings, classrooms or perhaps above a baker’s shop.

That the concept of a Twitter-based journal club seem to be catching on is seen from the succesful original Twitter Journal Club (focused on research in clinical medicine), but also by other journal clubs that a popping up. An Astronomy Journal Club on Twitter have for example so far attract lots of followers that are eager to discuss articles and academic papers on astronomy and astrophysics.

I myself have not yet participated in a Twitter Journal Club, but I look forward to expericing discussions where each comment, statement, view point is limited to 140 characters. It really forces the participant to be precis.

From the classics: “Effect Measure” – a model public health science blog?

Are public health experts, researchers, enthusiast to be found online? This is a question that I have tried to answer over the last couple of months.

Having a master degree in Public Health Sciences myself, I must admit that until a few months ago I did not pay much attention to what the world of social media could add to my professional life or what I through the web could share with others. But as I described in my previous post about Twitter and LinkedIn, things are changing and communicating research and searching for information through social media tools more and more seems like a very natural thing to do.

Also blogs have opened my eyes to a new world of communicating public health. In my search for good examples of Public Health research related blogs I have very often come across a blog that is not even alive and kicking any longer. The blog is called “Effect Measure” and was started already in 2004 and had its last post in May 2010 – but still very much worth a read and proof that public health science is an excellent topic for a blog.

A model for subsequent blogs?

Effect Measure is edited by senior public health scientists and practitioners and calls itself “a forum for progressive Public Health discussion and argument as well as a source of public health information from around the web that interests the editor(s)”. It covers a wide range of public healths topics and often takes it’s starting point in (at the time) newly published articles or news stories related to public health (primarily in an US context). The blog both explains in simple language the topic/problem and comments on it. An example og a topic covered through several blog posts is swine flu (H1N1). When it was at its highest blog posts on the topic were published which all provided  good background information about the virus and made it possible, on a scientific basis to get an impression of what kind of disease we were talking about and what the challenges were. (see example here).

The blog post varies of course dependant on topic, both in length, tone, complexity and structure. A common structure for blog post is as follows.

1) Outline of the problem/topic and general background information
2) a long citation or links to other sources with either the conclusions from a study, an expressed opinion etc.
3) a comment on the citation and a conclusion or question for thought

This flows provides a good basis for the readers to have enough information to enter into a dialogue, e.g. through raising questions etc. In essence it gives a clear, in-depth scientific explanations of public health topics combined with strong opinions about how things should be handled with the view to improve public health.

Effect Measure started out as a private initiative in 2004 but was in June 2006 invited to come under the umbrella of ScienceBlogs, one of the premier venue for science-oriented blogs. This must be said to be evidence of its scientific soundness.

One things that may however challenge the soundness a little bit in my view is that the editors of Effect Measure chose to stay anonymous. The argument was as follows:

The Editors of Effect Measure are senior public health scientists and practitioners. Their names would be immediately recognizable to many in the public health community. They prefer to keep their online and public lives separate to allow maximum freedom of expression. Paul Revere was a member of the first local Board of Health in the United States (Boston, 1799). The Editors sign their posts “Revere” to recognize the public service of a professional forerunner better known for other things.

It can be debated whether this strategy is appropriate. It will in my opinion have challenged the blogs credibility in the beginning, and to me there is an element of playing chicken when you are not ready to stand up and take on you own views and opinions. They write that they themselves are senior scientists and practitioners in public health and would be immediately recognizable. Well, does this mean that the views expressed in their blog is what they apply in their work or are they here just letting out opinions on all the things they are not ‘allowed’ to say in their official positions? Usually I would find it okay to write under a synonym, but when the fact that these people are actually senior and most likely influential public health experts is taken into account I do find it a little problematic and it challenges the soundness of the blog content.

However, when criticism is passed on by the readers (eg. through a comment) the editors are very good at responding to any critic and questions. This give ground for very interesting scientifically based dialogue in almost all blog posts. And exactly the high quality dialogue is one of the reasons why I find this blog to be an interesting example of public health science communication. Also the frequency of postings is high and in combination with the posts being of high quality content, the blog is just a wonderful ocean of information, discussions and opinions. Finally, the fact that even a year after the last post, many of the blog posts are still very much forth a read proves that there is something to Effect Measure, which others could learn from.

A successor

Even though Effect Measure has closed down it is still a model for other blogs. One of its successor (so named after the editors at Effect Measures themselves) is the blog “The Pump Handle“. The Pump Handle describes itself as a place for people interested in public health and the environment to discuss issues of interest. The blog is named after the worlds first formal epidemiological study by John Snow in London who in 1854  through examining maps of cholera cases  traced the disease to water from a local pump. The two blogs are very similar in structure and focus (although there in The Pump Handle is much empathise on environmental and occupational health). The main difference is however that the editors are named. Both are researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health, and label their name to every blog post (also all guest bloggers also seem to be writing under their own names). As with Measure Effect it started out as a private WordPress-based blog but was later included under ScienceBlogs. What I like about the Pump Handle is that we as readers know who is blogging. At least to me it is nice to know to whom the views apply, not so that I can bang them in their head for their opinions should I disagree, but because gives the opinions more weight and sincerity.

My exploring the web for more blogs of public health sciences continues. Have already come across several, but had to share with you Effect Measure, as it seems to be a good example of how a blog on public health science can be structured.

to write, to write, to write

I like writing, so I guess it is only right to get started on some blogging. Actually, it is practically part of my job description to be out here on the social web media and I am a happy reader of several blogs so others might say that it is highly overdue. For a while I have, in the hidden been working on something for a blog. I guess you could call it a draft. But I realized that this is a completely wrong strategy. Blogs are much more spontaneous than doing drafts and have them edited etc. The point of a blog is precisely to write more loosely and frequently. So never mind if it is not always sharp and to the point.   So here we go: My first posting. And since the “draft” shouldn’t go to waste I will post it below. Enjoy

A Typhoon’ish Chaos

Social web media. Science communication. Public health. Those are the keywords for my new job, for my pilot study. They are also the words I generally use when I try to explain to friends and family what I do. Putting them into a sentence it becomes something like this : “Well I will be looking at how social web media can be used to communicate research in Public Health Sciences”.

So lets see what I know so far. Public health, as broad as it might be, I do know something off. At least six years at University and about five years of working with public health should give me a somewhat solid background.

Communication I feel pretty comfortable with too, and even science communication to some extend. Mostly from a practical point of view. Writing journalistic stuff. Some theory too, but I guess mostly linked to the practice.

Okay, there we go. Then there is only social web media left. How difficult can it be? I mean, I’m on Facebook, I read blogs once in a while, and I do have a twitter account. Never used it, but it is there. LinkedIn I use too. I am even part of a public health alumnae network that once in a while sends out small discussions and job vacancies. However being on these networks doesn’t really make me an expert on social web media – far from actually.

Okay, so much for my introductions to my pilot study. I guess I better just get started. I gotta start surfing the net. Find some good examples of communication of public health research through social web media. Examples must be out there. I just have to find them, and then patterns and trends will pop up along the way. I hope.

I have been warned that it is The Wild West out there. An inferno of rubbish, with good attempts and intentions, small shining pearls and good potential hid in between lots of more or less crappy stuff (at least crappy when what I am looking for is scientific research). And the people who warned me are right I realize pretty quickly. It really is a small or perhaps gigantic chaos, where every search words opens up to what feel like thousand different things, links and genres. So where to start? Just that question opened up for a billion more. In this inferno of websites, blogs, discussion groups and social network groups lots of questions present themselves.

  • Exactly what kind of communication am I looking at? Sharing of results, discussion of processes, open-ended discussions, forums for expressing opinions? I could go on – there are so many kinds
  • And to communication between whom? Researcher to researcher, researcher to students, researcher to public, to politicians, to specific target groups or practitioner to public?
  • With what intentions? To take credit, to pursued and convince, to seek help, to enable change, to discuss, to share thoughts, to be inspired, to inspire, to be seen?
  • Through specific genres of social web media or are we “are all over the place”?
  • Through quality approved and institutional hosted sites like peer-reviewed journals websites, universities etc. or also private initiatives?
  • Only lasting initiatives or also short-lived blogs, twitters etc.
  • How broad should we understand “public health” and are certain topics within public health more suitable than others of communicating via social web media?

Answering each of these questions opens up for what looks like a typhoon’ish chaos and makes me wonder why it was I got myself into this. How am I – no expert in social web media – ever going to find my way of this storm I have gotten myself into?

Well these were my first thoughts – more to follow. At least I got my first post out there.!