Monday, November 28, 2016

How the NEJM and Star Wars May Just Have Predicted My Future in #FOAMed

It sometimes is a bit wondrous how our past actions can influence how our future pursuits.

I have discussed how #FOAMed has made an impact on research, discovery, and my professional pursuits here and here. To be quite frank, I can't imagine how my life would be if I was not engaged in social media.

But obviously, at one point, I did, and I may have predicted my own engagement in #FOAMed without even realizing it. In addition, I think I have the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the Star Wars franchise to thank for this foretelling of my future.

This week, five years ago, as I was in the midst of applying and interview at programs to pursue post-graduate training in emergency medicine pharmacy, I was also putting the final touches of an essay for a contest that I will confess that I entered as a sort of joke that I had with one of my co-residents.

At the time, the NEJM put forth a call for student and residents to enter an essay contest in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the journal. The question surrounding the essay was as follows:

In the last twenty years, the internet and social networking have brought profound changes in how information is communicated. How can we harness this technology to improve health?

The editors of the journal would select 150 winners of the essay contest, and those student and trainees who won would be invited to a full-day symposium of the 200th anniversary of the journal at Harvard Medical School in Boston. In addition, all of the winning essays would be featured on the NEJM 200th anniversary website.

When I received the email, I was on my drug information learning experience, and there was some opportunity for me to write during downtime. I showed the email to my co-resident, who stated that I was lucky that she was not entering the contest as her essay would "blow all the others out of the water. " I took this as a challenge and said to her that I would enter, and that I may very well prove to her that I could win. We both laughed, and I proceeded to write, not thinking much of it, but I did have a tiny glimmer of hope of being one of the lucky 150. Once I submitted the essay, I forgot about it in the haze of everything else that was occurring at the time.

A short few months later, on a spring day in March, as I was checking my email,  one subject heading that caught my eye in my inbox was "Results of the NEJM Essay Contest." Once I clicked it open, I read congratulatory notes on having won the essay contest with further details related to registration and traveling to the Boston to attend the 200th anniversary symposium. I was shocked and gleefully laughed as I showed my co-resident the email, and she commended me on my efforts.

After being granted full permission to do so from the editors of the NEJM, I have reproduced my essay below. For all I know, the title may have pushed this essay over the edge for the judges.

"Electronic Information Technologies in Healthcare: May the Source Be With You

It is difficult to imagine the world without the existence of smartphones, personal computer tablets, and other devices that we currently utilize as a means to obtain and communicate information.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are tools we use every day to receive the most up-to-date information on a minute-to-minute basis. With these resources, we can literally carry the world at our fingertips.

The advancements in the availability of information via electronic means have changed the way healthcare professionals practice. Many medical journals utilize an electronic table of contents (eTOC) for subscribers to receive information regarding newly completed and ongoing clinical trials, the latest review articles and treatment guidelines, and interesting case reports that can be applied to our clinical practice. If we have questions or need clarification regarding indications, appropriate dosing, or adverse effects of medications, various mobile applications that contain a wealth of drug information are available to us to research the information and are only a touchscreen away.

Social networking has allowed for communication between healthcare professionals who share the same field of practice that would not have been otherwise possible. This has established a foundation for the exchange of ideas through the development of workshops and conferences regarding the latest therapeutic updates, which has fostered an environment for collaborative practice amongst healthcare professionals. In the setting of natural disasters and other types of emergency crises, social networking websites can serve as a means of sharing information with the public regarding preparedness and response to these types of situations, especially when determining the status of local hospital operations and emergency room access. Governmental agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide the general public with information regarding the latest news in the media regarding healthcare on a regular basis.

With the growing interest in the promotion of health literacy, both the Internet and social networking websites can serve as useful vehicles for healthcare professionals and patients alike to make appropriate health decisions. As health literacy initiatives continue to grow and progress, patient safety and health outcomes will improve, which can eventually lead to a reduction in medication errors and decreased healthcare costs.

Through these instances, we can see that the Internet and social networking websites have become an essential component of the healthcare setting. As healthcare organizations continue develop innovative means to utilize this technology, stakeholders will be able to influence the means  in  which both patients and healthcare professionals can acquire and gain access to health information. With the evolution of these technologies, healthcare providers have the responsibility to evaluate the accuracy and clarity of these resources for use by the general public, which is a huge challenge that will need to be addressed and overcome in the future. In doing so, we can ensure that the practical application of information obtained through these technologies will ultimately improve the quality of life for our patients."

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Here is what still surprises me: I wrote this essay prior to my engagement in #FOAMed - nearly a full year prior, to be exact. That is to say that at the time that I wrote this essay, I had never even heard of #FOAMed. In addition, at the time of writing the essay, I was not yet on Twitter - I thought it was only for celebrities - and I was on the brink of closing my Facebook page for good, which I did later on that year. Much of what I knew about social media at the time of writing the essay came from my own research on the topic from other disciplines. The way that I kept up with the latest in the medical and pharmacy literature came from my own subscriptions through electronic tables of contents of various journals - that was it. Admittedly, all that I knew back then was that people used blogs as live journals to record the occurrences of daily life and to share recipes, and podcasts were for listening to books on tape and for folks to discuss the latest in pop culture. This was the limited scope of knowledge that I had about social media, and yet, there was something that made me push forward in writing about its role in medicine.

I also find it ironic that it may have very well been a journal - a traditional, 200-year-young print publication - that sparked my initial interest in social media and medicine.

Reading this now, there are certain themes in the essay that emerge that are #FOAMed-like in nature, if not, fall within the very realms of #FOAMed. In reflecting upon this, maybe I had some sort of gut feeling that in time, social media could be leveraged for some good.

Funny how things turn out.