Physician perspectives: Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD

Hannah Blake interviews Bertalan Mesko

Webicina.com

In what was our last physician perspectives interview of 2012, we followed up with Bertalan Mesko, to see if his views on healthcare and social media have changed.

Social media is continually evolving. Almost every day now sees the launch of either a new social media channel or a new phone or device to use social media on and there are always new ways of thinking about how we can best use these different channels to our advantage.

On this note, we speak with dedicated social media expert, Bertalan Mesko. Last summer, we interviewed Bertalan about his many different roles – as a medical doctor, the administrator of Wikipedia, author of Scienceroll, founder of Webicina.com and social media lecturer.

According to Bertalan, in our last interview, medical professionals of the 21st century have to be ready to meet the expectations of the e-patients, while e-patients have the power to change the way healthcare is delivered. Has social media changed in 2012? Have any of Bertalan’s views of the future materialised? Let’s find out…

Interview summary

HB: Hello Bertalan, thank you for speaking to me today. What have you been up to in 2012?

BM: Well a bunch of things happened this year. For example, earlier this year in May I launched the digital format of my university course, which was launched in 2008, and it is I believe the first course in the world that focuses on teaching social media and internet use to medical and public health students.

This online project started when I came back from Stanford University received an email from a physician in London who wanted to come to Hungary every week to just to attend the course. I thought there should be a global format for the course, therefore I launched the so-called The Social MEDia Course this May, which is an absolutely free lecture series focusing on the basics of internet, using blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, virtual worlds, mobile apps, RSS, all these social media features, aspects, tools and platforms in medicine and healthcare.

Now over 1,000 students and medical professionals literally all over the world are doing the course, but only a few of them have been able to finish the course successfully and receive the final certification.

Then I gave a keynote at the Doctors 2.0 and You event in Paris, about using crowd sourcing as a method in medicine and healthcare. There are also many things coming up on Webicina, where we curate the medical segments of social media. We have now over 120 medical topics, conditions and specialties covered, we have over 19 languages right now, so there are many exciting things going on in 2012.

HB: Since you previously spoke with us, do you believe there has been a change in the communication between pharma and physicians?

BM: I have to say I believe so, because a few years ago pharma was quite reluctant to using social media, but now you see that at least many of the pharma companies are trying to get closer to using social media in an efficient way.

I have contacts with the majority of big pharma companies and I know that they have some kind of an internal guidance on using social media for the employees. Many of these companies also found a space in my crowdsourcing project, in which I invited the most important voices in pharma, the blogosphere and pharma companies, and then we crowd sourced a guide for using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and Wikipedia, focusing on how pharma can communicate with medical professionals and vice versa.

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“We have to take very small steps when trying to use the power of social media by following the path of evidence-based medicine.”

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So it seems that these companies are a bit more open to these new platforms and tools, and it’s good to see they don’t want to rush into using social media, but want to set the legal terms first, which is a very important step. It’s not even just in pharma, but altogether in medicine – we have to take very small steps when trying to use the power of social media by following the path of evidence-based medicine.

HB: You’ve also recently been features on Health Spotters Future Health top 100 list, so how does it feel to be regarded as someone who is leading healthcare?

BM: Well of course it feels great. What feels great really is when you work every day and every night for many years, and when you share something that you find interesting and people start following you and re-tweeting your tweets or sharing your messages and concepts, because then you know that you have an audience.

Now if I have a question about my own projects, I will ask my social media followers and in a very short amount of time, I will get very specific responses, great feedback. So what feels great is to be a part of a large community. After following this field very closely for seven or eight years now, it also feels great now that this community is getting bigger and bigger every month, not just every year, and to be part of this community assures that even if you come up with very complicated projects you will get feedback and you will get the response that you need

HB: In what ways do you believe healthcare further needs to change?

BM: This year, the most frequently used buzzword was redesigning healthcare, but I don’t believe that healthcare can be redesigned, because I believe only things that can be stopped can be redesigned. But of course healthcare has to work day and night, so we can only introduce tiny changes into the system, finding out whether it works or not, and we have to focus on this kind of approach right now. In any other areas, we can come up with huge changes and maybe even make those changes, but in medicine we have to follow the path of evidenced-based medicine.

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“This year, the most frequently used buzzword was redesigning healthcare, but I don’t believe that healthcare can be redesigned.”

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But to answer your question, I believe that the most important part right now is communication. I went through the whole medical education system and I had my own online solutions for many processes and tasks used in communication in medicine, such as how to publish information online, how to share this information, how to get the larger audiences, and how to communicate with colleagues.

When I went to medical school, I realized I had to somehow try to implement these solutions into the very old structures of medical education and communication. Now we train medical students to become doctors in a few years’ time, and we train them with methods that were used even decades ago – some of the books used today were used 50 years ago.

So first we have come up with some changes regarding medical communication, not just between patients and doctors, which is improving very fast because of the e-patient’s need, but also between medical professionals.

Now is just the time to teach medical students how to behave online and how to use the online tools for communication. By changing education, you might also be able to change medical communication.

HB: Open access is in the spotlight at the moment as well, after the British Medical Journal said it would only publish transparent clinical trial data. What are your thoughts on the importance of open access in healthcare?

BM: Well that’s clearly a very important next step in this process of changing healthcare, because now large companies, hospitals, pharma companies all have huge amounts of data, and actually this year was the year when I had the most conferences focusing only on dealing with data. It seems this is another important buzzword this year. I think these companies have to make the data available online, as far as legally possible. There are actually many cases in which companies have the data, but have no idea how to deal with that. On the other hand, there are many people outside such companies who have great abilities and skills in analysing the data, but they have no access to such that. So somehow we should merge these two fields together, and I believe one of the best methods for this is crowd sourcing.

HB: Finally, how do you see social media continuing to evolve in the future?

MB: I hope that communication will improve. I hope that we can change medical education totally to be able to train medical students to become doctors who can respond to a special question of e-patients, because that’s a very important feature. For these e-patients, questions about their own health and questions about the online resources focusing on their own health are equal, but to these doctors these questions are not equally important. So we have to teach these future doctors how to behave with e-patients, how to transform e-patients into equal partners in the treatment. E-patients can help a lot, their compliance is great – we have many studies for that.

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“There was a clear need for quality information online, that’s why we have now thousands of medical websites.”

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I also believe that by using this huge amount of data in an efficient way we might be able to provide clear decision trees for patients to see what will happen to them in the healthcare system after a diagnosis. Many years ago there was a clear need for quality information online, that’s why we have now thousands of medical websites. But I believe that in the near future of medicine, people will realize that patients don’t just need good information once, but they need dynamic resources, for example blogs written by fellow patients, or Facebook groups managed by medical professionals in that specific condition. So the internet will have to be curated, not just the information itself but social media as well, and that’s where we, at Webicina.com, try to help both patients and medical professionals.

HB: Thank you for your time Bertalan, it was great to speak with you.

BM: My pleasure, thank you very much.

About the interviewee:

Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD graduated from the University of Debrecen, Medical School and Health Science center in 2009 and finished PhD in the field of clinical genomics in 2012. He is the managing director and founder of Webicina.com, the first free medical social media guidance service for patients and medical professionals. He speaks at prestigious conferences, covers online international events and is a health 2.0 consultant for pharma and medical companies. Healthspottr.com included him in the Future Health Top 100 list.

He is the author of the award-winning medical blog, Scienceroll.com and the lecturer of the Social Media in Medicine university course which is the first of its kind worldwide.

He was mentioned in Al Jazeera, Nature Medicine, the New York Times, British Medical Journal and Wired Science, among others. He is a member of the Kairos Society and Mensa International.

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