Finding Our Little Black Dress in the Online World

Monday was spent attending the New England Journal of Medicine’s Library Advisory Board meeting.  This is only my first full year on the board and my second meeting but I have to say I have learned a lot about things that impact the publishing world and the medical library world.  As different as our two groups are, there are also quite a lot of similarities.  

Of course we talked about the economy and its impact on libraries and publishing in general.  We also talked about what we saw in the future for libraries (everything from online expansion, smaller physical spaces, different librarian roles and services) and the future for STM publishers (enhanced online articles, different roles for the publishers, and licensing issues). 

I found our discussion on social applications in medicine, libraries, and publishers to be extremely interesting (naturally).  When we met in the Spring, this topic was hardly discussed, but now 8 months later social media has exploded all over the Internet for the medical community.  Funny, we talked about what the future held for libraries and publishers at that Spring meeting, but honestly I don’t think anybody mentioned Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other social platform.   Yet it is now the must have PR and marketing tool. I think it is the little black dress, of the healthcare world. 

A year ago if you asked me about hospitals getting on Twitter or Facebook I would have laughed.  Hospital IT networks are notorious for locking things tight, I still know of hospitals where the network is so closed the medical professionals can’t use the clinical workstations to access MedlinePlus to give consumer health information to  patients.  So to have hospitals actively using something as “frivolous” as Twitter in public relations, marketing and consumer health information, is quite a departure from the tradition and honestly completely unexpected to me. 

But change is constant and we are not where we were 8 months ago and everybody in the medical world is hitting the social networking world big time.  Just like women searching for that perfect little black dress, hospitals, libraries, publishers, societies are all hitting the Internet looking for the social media application that is the right fit and style for them.  Just because they are little and black does not mean that all little black dresses are the same, au contraire.  One dress maybe too frilly and over the top to work for one woman, but it may just the right length and style for another who finds a simple sheath too plain.  The same can be said for social media applications.  Facebook might work for one organization but may not yield good results with another. 

So it was interesting to learn how in just the 8 short months the folks over at NEJM have also been trying on their little black dresses of social networking.  Many things were discussed but the  things that stuck in my head were NEJM’s H1N1 site, health care reform Twitter feedFacebook page, Interactive Medical Cases, and CardioExchange

The  H1N1 site was established by The New England Journal of Medicine in conjunction with Journal Watch to help monitor the outbreak.  The site contains research reports, commentary, news, updates, and a map of H1N1 cases through out the world.  Also included are articles from NEJM’s Archive about the epidemics in 1837, 1918, and 1976 as well as review articles on the management of seasonal influenza.

The H1N1 site is a great flu resource, but what I found most interesting is the neat way NEJM used blogging software to host the site.  Most people still think of using blogging software to run blogs such as the Krafty Librarian.  NEJM’s site while technically a blog offers so much more than just a regular old blog.

NEJM’s Twitter account is link to their Health Care Reform site.  You can find the feed if you search Twitter for NEJM or go directly to the Health Care Reform site ( link to the feed is located on the left side toward the bottom).  The NEJM Twitter account just focuses on information and stories pertaining to issues of health care reform in the United States. 

Important to note the content on both the H1N1 site and the Health Care Reform site is free.

The New England Journal of Medicine’s Facebook page is aimed at a different set of users than their Twitter feed.  The Facebook site has over 25,000 fans many of which are from the United States and Asia.  Most of their fans are very interested in NEJM’s Image of the Week  and their Interactive Medical Cases.  Both of these things as well as other topics are posted on their wall for people to read and comment on.

NEJM’s Interactive Medical Cases site is new and offers CME.  To mistake it as another CME site would be an unfortunate error.  Each case is presented in a way where the patients’ history and information evolves and the doctor taking the Interactive Medical Cases is presented with a series of questions and exercises to test their skills.  Through the use of video, animation, and other interactive content, doctors are given immediate feedback on their answers and treatment choices.  At the end of the case doctors are given the opportunity to compare their final scores with their peers. It still is in a limited time pilot phase and is currently free.

Last but not least is CardioExchange which was just unveiled last week at the 2009 AHA Scientific Sessions.   It is an online community for medical professionals dedicated to improving cardiac patient care.  Just from the brief view I got of it on Monday the design is way more professional than Facebook and more robust than LinkedIn.  It has the look and professional feel of LinkedIn but it is way more interactive than LinkedIn’s glorified rolodex feel.  There a slew of online communities vying for medical professionals to populate their virtual spaces, Sermo just being one of the many.  Unlike Sermo, CardioExchange is for medical professionals engaged in the delivery of cardiac patient care, it is not limited to physicians.  It is limited to subject matter not specifically job description.  (Personally I like this, physicians do not practice in a void, but within a health care team. So it makes sense that it would be open to the members involved in the cardiac patient care team, not just doctors.)  Unlike many online communities, members profiles are their real names, they are NOT anonymous and members are expected to be forthright about potential conflicts of interest.  Unlike Sermo, personal information is not shared with third parties.  (I think this is also important.  I have always been a little disconcerted by Sermo’s ties with drug and medical device industry.)  As I mentioned there are a lot of professional communities out there, it will be interesting to see how CardioExchange evolves and whether it is successful, it is too early to tell right now but it looks like it is on the right track. 

The New England Journal of Medicine is not the only publisher or medically related company to be hitting the racks of little black dresses in the social networking mall, nor will they be the last.  What is interesting is that they are trying on their dresses just like the rest of us.  They are evaluating what is too frilly what is too plain and what works best for each occasion.  As you or your library starts to peruse the racks as well, remember to have a critical eye in the dressing room, because not everything works for every body type.  What works well in one library and institution may not work at another.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out, it just means that when you are trying things out be prepared to evaluate it to see how it is being used, who is using it, and its usage statistics (if possible).  For example there are a lot of applications and sites that help you monitor your Twitter account, Facebook’s Fan Page provides lots statistical information as well.  Most importantly if it isn’t working don’t be afraid to try something different that matches your needs.  That might mean a different social networking tool, it also might be mean something entirely different and not related to social networking.

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