Even researchers and doctors go to Wikipedia for health information

WikipediaMy general practitioner might just have visitied Wikipedia when he did a Google search on some health topic he came across and needed more information on. A surprise? Well, no not really. I myself use it both outside my professional life and in my public health research life, so why shouldn’t my doctor. However, it is my sense that Wikipedia is still not something researcher talk about when they discuss how they search for information or how they share their own knowledge.

Last week I blogged about Wikipedia trainings at McMaster University in Canada and I seem to have not been able to let go of the topic of Wikipedia. Not having looked that carefully on the relevance of Wikipedia to public health before it wasn’t until now that I came by this article on how Wikipedia can be A Key Tool for Global Public Health Promotion.

The article is published in the latest 2011 volume of Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), a peer-reviewed transdisciplinary journal on health and health care in the Internet age. The authors , Dr James Heilman et al., are all members of the Wiki Project Medicine and therefore naturally advocates of developing Wikipedia in the field of the health.

Based on a belief that Wikipedia’s potential to work as a tool for worldwide health promotion is underestimated, James Heilman et al. draws attention to and encourages medical professionals, their societies, patient groups, and institutions to help improve Wikipedia’s health-related entries. Using recent statistics on who uses Wikipedia they brings attention to the fact that Wikipedia is a major source of health information, both for many professional and the general public. Below some of the figures from the article:

“Studies have found that 70% of junior physicians use Wikipedia in a given week, while nearly 50% to 70% of practicing physicians use it as an information source in providing medical care [3436]. The junior physicians used Wikipedia more frequently than all other websites excluding Google [34]. Of pharmacists who responded to a questionnaire, 35% admitted using it [37]. The medical articles on Wikipedia receive about 150 million page views per month, with the top 200 most-visited medical articles each receiving more than 100,000 views per month and the top 500 each receiving greater than 60,000 views per month [38].”

Part of the aim of the authors is to get the medical (and this would include the public health community I assume) to see the necessity but also benefits in participating in developing and quality ensuring the medical articles on Wikipedia.

They do this by discussing the intricacies, strengths, and weaknesses of Wikipedia’s health related entries. The listing of weaknesses and limitations of the online encyclopedia are very useful as they provide important background knowledge to be aware of both when using and contributing to Wikipedia.

Another useful listing in the article are a list of reasons why physician should contribute to Wikipedia (they highlights below are my highlights)

  • It may be personally satisfying to provide an important educational service for individuals looking for health information, and to see articles grow that one created or improved.
  • While not having a high scientific impact, Wikipedia’s articles have a high social impact due to its broad readership. In the experience of the authors, a newly created article can often be found among the top Google results within a day, often outperforming review articles in highly regarded medical journals.
  • Editing or adding information helps contributing students or professionals master the subject matter and learn more about the evidence underpinning it.
  • Translating complex ideas into accessible concepts and language is an interesting intellectual challenge, which can help in everyday nontechnical communication with patients.
  • Writing for Wikipedia teaches modern online communication.
  • WikiProject Medicine offers participation and recognition in a Web-based international community.

Reading the list, I couldn’t help thinking whether adding to this list a public health obligation to share knowledge on a media which so many people use. Using the argument that medical professionals by contributing to health related entries live up to a responsibility of providing patients and colleagues with the correct information. Perhaps it is taking it a little too far, but then again my guess is that it could be a motivating factor for many physicians and researchers. In addition, there could be a benefit for researchers in sharing findings, research projects and results with a broader group and thereby live up to the obligation of communicating science and promoting their own research.

Having more people contribute to Wikipedia, however requires increased awareness and training in using it. The idea of familiarizing university students and staff through workshops as they have been doing at McMaster University is a relevant strategy. Perhaps it could even be taken a step further and included in mandatory classes on science communication.

For universities not yet embracing social media – six best practices for using Social Media

Taking up the thread from last weeks post about providing training in Wikipedia at the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University I came across this post on 6 Best Practices for Universities embracing Social Media.

Here  from the New York based Syracuse University lists six best practices, Universities should learn from when embracing social media, in order to avoid failed strategies, dormant pages and less-than-thriving online communities.

The headlines for the six best practices are:

  1. Develop strategy and goals
  2. Choosing platforms
  3. Empower and support departments
  4. Provide guidelines
  5. Develop a consistent voice across platforms
  6. Communicate across departments

For universities whom have already developed and successfully implemented a social media strategy this list of headlines is perhaps not very useful. However, for universities or individual academic departments not yet in the social media era it might be useful.

Based on my informal talk with researchers at The Faculty of Health at University of Copenhagen about their communication practices, the university is very much at a starting point and this list could be useful in pointing to some of the challenges an introduction of social media would bring with it. This includes dealing with what one could describe as prejudice towards social media, worries of time restraints, lack of skills and support in how to use it and perhaps most importantly lack of knowledge of what it can be used for.

Especially the empowerment and support dimension seems essential and the importance of not creating just one system to cover the whole university, but instead acknowledge that departments and academic units all have unique messages and distinct audiences. This implies that departments should be able to establish their own accounts and take into account the characteristics of their particular audience etc. This strategy demands, however, for providing staff with the knowledge necessary and general support – not just on paper, but also in practice. Perhaps especially for the more senior staff who are in many cases not as familiar with social media.

The Wikipedia trainings at McMaster University is a good example of providing and familiarizing staff and students with knowledge about a technology/platform and empowering them to use it themselves.

The last of the six best practice focused on ensuring communication across departments and campuses is also important. Silo communication rarely brings good with it, and I do not believe that this will be the exception. Keeping lines open for communication across departments will provide important opportunities for collaboration, for sharing best practices and to learn from people in other departments. Perhaps especially in the field of public health, which in is definition reaches across so many disciplines, departments, faculties etc.

There are surely lots of other “best practices” out there and lots of lessons to learn from, so this list I refer to here is just one of many. I would be happy to receive tips on who and where to look for more!

Wikipedia trainings at a faculty of health sciences

There really does seem to be something about Canada + public health + social media. Constantly do I come across initiatives, programmes and conferences from Canadian universities that are exploring the use of social media in health research and communication.

WikipediaMy latest discovery comes from the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University in Ontario. This time it is Wikipedia that is at the focus of attention. A workshop for new Wikipedia writers took place on October 4th this year with the objective to encourage students, faculty researchers and staff to contribute to Wikipedia’s medical and health pages.

The rationale for the workshop was the following:

“Ensuring that high-quality health information is available to help people make informed decisions related to their health can be an important strategy to achieve the social objective of a healthy community. Wikipedia is a major source of health information for the general public and also for professionals in the health field.”

And it continues:

“Knowledge translation is a mandate shared by many organizations and granting bodies. Wikipedia can be part of a knowledge translation strategy. The volume of student work on health and related subjects each term is enormous. In many cases, rather than being publicly available and widely disseminated, high quality work sits on professors shelves or worse. Providing students with the tools to contribute to Wikipedia may make assignments more meaningful.”

The initiative came from the president of Wikimedia Canada, James Heilman, who has also been a contributor to the Wiki Project Medicine.

According to James Heilman, Wikipedia is one of the major sources for health and medical information worldwide. Its medical articles get between 150-200 million page views a month (in English alone) with up to 70 per cent of physicians using it in their clinical practice. The reason for reaching out to universities is according to James Heilman:

“Right now, Wikipedia is a good source of information but it could be better. To improve Wikipedia we need the input of the academic community.”

The workshop was offered free of charge to the participants but was partly sponsored by the university itself  through its Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

The workshop naturally has a wiki-entry where the objective and programme details are available.

I have not yet been able to find information on how the workshop went or how many participated, but as an initiative in itself I find it very interesting. Having the last couple of days interviewed researchers at the Institute of Public Health at University of Copenhagen, I must say that I find it extremely relevant also in a Danish context. Many people I have talked to do use Wikipedia, but have never reflected on the fact that they themselves can contribute to Wiki-pages. Or know how to do it. Offering the course to students also makes complete sense as using social media technologies, such a Wikipedia, is very much a question of creating a culture around it and train students and researchers to view it as an additional communication channel for research findings.

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..

Will Science Online London 2011 give answers to how the web is changing science?

Science Online London 2011 will surely not be able to give the answer to how the web is changing science. For that there are too many answers. But I do look very much forward to joining others in London 2. and 3. September to listen to different perspectives of what role the communicative possibilities web2.0 opens up for, can play in science communication, and to learn from all those who have been in this field much longer than I have.

Science Online London, organised by nature.com and Digital Science is taking place for the fourth time. The objective of the event is to explore the ways in which the Web has transformed scientific research and communication.

Coming from a public health background where multidisciplinarity is as natural as breathing, I am exited to enter into another multidisciplinary world composed of a broad spectrum of technologists, data curators, science communicators and researchers who are going to discuss issues surrounding how science is carried out and communicated online.

If you are not able to join this could be a good opportunity to try out the world of Twitter and follow #solo11 where I am sure some of the participants will be tweeting live from the event. Or you can follow the live streaming from here.

More on how Science Online London 2011 might have changed me will follow…

What motivates a scholarly blogger?

Why do researchers blog? Although it is definitely an expanding discipline, it is not yet common for researchers to share their thoughts, products and experiences through a blog – at least not in a Danish context. After some months of wondering around the world of science communication via social media it seems quite obvious to me that there are several benefits in sharing and communicating research through blogs.

Several characteristics of the blog can be highlighted as beneficial for the researcher who is willing to share both results of his research and the reflections on the process. Below I would just like to highlight three characteristics of the blog that I find valuable.

  1. Via a blog you communicate here and now. As a result, reactions, comments, critic, approval of what you write may come almost instantly. The blog posts doesn’t disappear, so later comments etc. are always possible. But not having to await e.g. long review processes in scientific magazines can in some cases be very valuable. And the ‘here and now’ structure gives space for a forum to put thoughts and ideas into words (which can actually sometimes be a challenge), which can be beneficial in later more formal communication of your research.
  2. Through it’s often more informal structure you can share your research, your thoughts, concerns etc. along the way, which makes it possible for the readers to comment and contribute to the process as well as the product. Informality also means that one can write more freely and not get stuck in specific word counts or formal language that even other researchers might find troublesome.
  3. A blog can help establish connections to fellow researchers or people with common interest – even people whom you would never have known otherwise. I know this from my own few months and weeks on blogs and twitter. Truly an eye-opener.

There are of course lots of benefits to blogging just as there are disadvantages to the media. Some of the things I here promote as advantages may, seen from a different perspective be perceived as problematic. (I promise to do a separate post on this one day)

As interesting as my perspective on scientific blogging may be, I have through my research come across an interesting ph.d. study which focuses exactly on why science bloggers blog. The study by Sarah Kjellberg from Lund University focuses among other things on Motivations for blogging in scholarly context.

Based on interviews with a group of researchers from different disciplines she examines why these researchers blog – what are the driving factors?. I shall not refer the complete study here, but just point out some of the main motivation points she finds to be general for the blogging researchers (the highlighted words are my responsibility):

  • The possibility to share knowledge and opinions
  • A creative catalyst for their work
  • Provides a feeling of being connected in their work as researchers and to enter into dialogue
  • Ability to reach multiple audiences and expand professional network
  • Enables the combination of formal and informal scholarly communication

It would be interesting to know if this is also the experience of other scholarly bloggers. Are there other motivating factors? And what can challenge them, so motivations is risked lost? What about shared blogs? Is motivation different if you have your own ‘solo’ blog or is part of a group blog with several contributors?

And where does the motivation come from. Can it only come from oneself or are the ways to ‘help it along? If for example a School of Public Health made an executive decision to have their researcher blog, would the lack of self-induced motivation affect the quality of the blog? Could a general blog format to all bloggers/staff at university fit all or would it affect motivation? There is truly still a lot to explore…..

Journalism and science communication

Just thought that I’d share a few links to some articles about the relation between science, journalism and science communication through times. To me they give an interesting perspective on how social media is an obvious channel for communicating science to both a narrow and a broad audience and how it is linked to the previous formats for communicating between scientists.

I both articles references are made to how scientists in pre-scientific journal and early-scientific journal times used letter correspondence to discuss, comment and criticise each others theories, methods, findings and conclusions. The use of letters and the sharing for the content of these letters at scientists meetings.

Read the two posts, both are well articulated and contain fun and surprising examples of how Albert Einstein for example was not the biggest fan of peer-review.

The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again” by Bora Zivkovic in Scientific American, 20 December 2010.
Richard Smith: Scientific communication is returning to its roots” by Richard Smith on BMJ group blogs, 26 July 2011


Blogs and peer-reviewed journals

For the last couple of months I have been searching the internet for good (and bad) examples of social web media used to communicate Public Health research. And although Public Health is not the dominating topic on scholarly web 2.0 communication the variety is still great. Putting the magnifying glass on blogs it becomes clear that scholarly blogs really do come in all shapes and sizes.

Among the many different kinds of blogs, it has been interesting to see how some of the traditional peer-reviewed journals now also offer blog platforms. BMJ is one of the high-impact journals that have an elaborate blog platform. With a total of 18 blogs in categories  ranging from “Disease in Childhood” over “Tobacco control” to “Medical Ethics” several public health topics are covered. The activity level on the 18 blogs differs. For some the post frequency is higher than for others and the extend of comments varies too. Also the objective of the blogs are different, ranging from providing a platform for discussion to highlighting articles from other journals (e. the Heart Journal Scan which recommends cardiology related articles from non-cardiology journals). The blogs come with the function of regular blogs such as comments and posting it on Twitter, Facebook etc.

Other peer-reviewed journals also have blogs under their domain. This includes Nature, and PLoS who has both an official PLoS blog and PLoS blog network with more issue specific blogs. Eg. the staff of PLoS has a blog  and individual researchers have blogs related to their field.

Reading these blogs it makes me wonder what the reflection behind initiating them have been. What were the concerns and perceived benefits? How is the blog thought to relate to the “mother” peer-reviewed journal? Why does BMJ have a blog, but not the Lancet? Does the concept of the blog interfere with the fundamentals of the peer-reviewed approach? The questions are many.

Yesterday a friend of mine, and researcher herself said that she didn’t really give much for social media in research communication. But when I mentioned blogs of journals like Nature her response was  “It is funny, I do not really consider blogs as social media”. Perhaps blogs associated to journals washes out mentally some of the objections people have towards the combination of research and blogs. Perhaps the possibility of commenting is taken more and more for granted? I do not know the reasons, but it would be interesting to find out more about this…

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.!