Dispatch from Heidelberg

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Dear Physicians,

I am sending my greetings from a cafe-turned-sports bar in the 600 year old city of Heidelberg, Germany, typing out these words on my mobile while chatting with several other international journalists about what the future might hold for health and science media.

For me – and by extension M.D. Update – this entire year has been devoted to scholarship on the application of new media techniques that enhance patients access to and understanding of medicine’s peer-to-peer knowledge base. The premise of my study being that if patients are going to turn to the web for answers to their healthcare problems, shouldn’t the web serve up some actual solutions instead of causing so many problems? And if it could serve up the right information, then it would serve up information on qualified local doctors who treat actual conditions, not prey on our latent hypochondria. And it would validate qualifications thru professional standards, not anonymous rankings.

I can be tad cynical, but after four months in the media capital of the world, collaborating with medtech and social media startups, I find it odd how few are the members of the medical startup world who actually spend their days talking to doctors. And a bit of wisdom to boot- those who do are journalists.

Each month or two, another health app launches in a haze of hype, promising to be the app that will revolutionize healthcare. A lot of VCs are buying it, but I caution providers to use discretion when deciding which digital and social media to be involved in. Scalability and rapid deployment give apps a stellar trajectory but are at inherent odds with medical practice. Dangerously, some even propose to substitute for a genuine doctor-patient relationship.

Used well, social media can be a practice’s greatest ally in developing and nurturing strong patient relationships. I came upon a great example when covering the home birth and midwifery communities in NC last month. There, home birth families and their midwives collaborate in the exchange of valid health information, dispell rumors, and build rapport as a community of common interest. But gone awry, social media misuse not only spreads misinformation but threatens the provider with malpractice, inurement, or a dreadful reputation.

In the future of healthcare media, one thing is certain. Doctors have to take the lead and direct the tone and content of online discussion in accordance with the values and ethos of their profession. You have to go to the web as an extension of your practice, and you have to build this virtual community of trust just as you know it IRL (in real life).

TTYL, Megan

Megan Campbell Smith,Mentelle Media creative director and founder of
Inside Health