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HCPs, Patients, & the Web: An Interview with Dr. Berci Mesko.

Dr. Berci Mesko.  That guy.  You know him.Berci and I 'met' online seven years ago, I think (which equals out to about four hundred in Internet years), and had the opportunity to toast in person a while back.  I've been following his progression in medicine through social media, and I'm proud to be chatting with him here on SUM today, looking forward to what's next for this socmed trailblazer.

Kerri:  You've been a strong voice for social media being part of the health care system.  What initially ignited your passion in this space?

Berci:  My answer is quite simple. I have been a geek for a long time and when I had to face the old structures of medical communication and education, I was surprised I couldn't use my well-designed online methods to solve my challenges in medicine and healthcare. So I started working on new solutions that could be implemented into healthcare. I first became active in the medical segments of Wikipedia, became and administrator there, then I found out a blog could be the best platform for my online presence so I launched Scienceroll.com. Later when I tried to find quality social media resources focusing on my fields of interests such as genetics or cardiology, I realized how desperately we need a service that curates medical social media channels for free, this is why I launched Webicina.com.

As you see, I had very clear reasons to become more and more active and to find my own solutions as a geek.

Kerri:  Why do you think it's important for health care providers to be involved in the social media space?

Berci:  It might be a surprise, but I don't think all of them have to be involved. There are a lot of patients who do not use the internet in their health management and do not require their doctors to communicate online. But as the number of e-patients is rising rapidly and as the amount of information we have to deal with is growing day by day, social media can offer great solutions for simple problems such as being up-to-date or communicating with peers.

Basically, using social media is the same as having a real life conversation only with a few exceptions therefore I think the same rules should apply for social media as for offline communication even in medicine. Be respectful, listen closely, be consistent when publishing online and always think twice as whatever content you publish online as a medical student or professional will hunt you down.

Otherwise, social media can be a huge help for physicians by using online platforms, crowdsourcing and other extremely useful features if they know exactly what they want to achieve and know the rules and limitations.

Kerri:  Where is medicine going, in a social media sense, and how can patients be more actively involved, in your opinion?

Berci:  The only thing we don't have to deal with right now is the way patients use social media. Their motivation is clear: they have a medical condition and need information. The easiest way nowadays to get information is to turn to the internet. There is no question, they will use it more and more frequently in the upcoming years.

On the other hand, this is the job and responsibility of medical professionals to become their guides when it comes to the assessment of quality information online. Physicians should be able to meet the expectations of e-patients. As Farris Timimi, MD of Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media said, this is now part of their job. Medical professionals are natural communicators and now social media is a a huge platform used for that purpose and they have to know the tricks and potential dangers. The only way to do this properly is including digital literacy in medical curriculum just like I did when launching the world's first university course focusing on social media and medicine for medical students and also when I launched the global format of this course so then every medical student in the world can get this kind of knowledge even if they don't have such a course at their medical school.

Kerri:  How does Webicina help bridge the gap between health care professionals, patients, and the web?

The mission of Webicina is to curate the medical social media resources in many platforms, from many perspectives and in many languages. Coming up with the most relevant social media channels focusing on a medical condition or specialty is extremely difficult. The process of curation consists of 3 steps: 1) crowdsourcing through our social media channels that have been built for over 5 years, 2) the Webicina Team designing a collection based on the results of the crowdsourcing, and 3) checking each resource again and providing the reasons why it was selected.

Through PeRSSonalized Medicine, our users can follow the latest updates of any social media channels dedicated to medical conditions and specialties in the simplest, customizable, multi-lingual social aggregator in which if you click on the e.g. German flag, not only the platform will be in German language, but the resources included in the database will be the best German ones. We work with international collaborators to ensure the amazing quality of these collections.

We also provided an award-winner iPhone and Android medical app with a special health 2.0 quiz. Of course, everything is for free on the site.

Then we managed to crowdsource an open access social media guide for medical professionals and pharma.

We try to help e-patients and medical professionals use social media efficiently in as many ways as possible.

Kerri:  And to cap this off on a less structured note, what are the top three social platforms you're fiddling with these days?

Berci:  I would say I'm using Google+ these days quite frequently, but regarding other new platforms, I'm not really convinced those would help me do my job better so even if I gave a try to Pinterest and others, I keep on using those communities I've been building for years to filter the information for me every day (Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed).

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By way of disclosure, I am on the Webicina Advisory Board.  I have no clue how to function on Pinterest.  And also, I've got legs.


Great interview, Kerri. Really sweet to the see the evolution and continuing work like this. And I really like the point about not all HCPs needing to be on social med - a very good point about not losing the real person connect for those who aren't internet-savvy in their health care. Much appreciated, the post is!

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