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Understanding The Social Network Pathologist

Using the power of social media for professional work isn’t new to pathology. Social media channels have become one of the quickest and easiest ways to use online tools in the disruption of healthcare communication. 

Pathologists around the world have discovered that  Twitter and Facebook are effective platforms to exchange thoughts on the latest technical or regulatory developments in pathology, discuss interesting cases and images with colleagues, and communicate with patients in dedicated support groups. The number of the pathologists engaging in social media (social network pathologists) continues to grow swiftly1.What are the drivers for pathologists to publicly share, present and discuss their work in these virtual groups?

Closing the Communication Gap

Social media provides simple means to communicate and share viewpoints, ideas and experiences with others – anywhere, instantly and at zero costs. It is therefore not unsurprising, that a field of medicine, that embraces the interpretation of images at its core, jumped on this channel to close the communication gap between stakeholders inside and outside their lab or hospital.

By using social media apps, pathologists can:

  • instantly and efficiently share their case images (encoded/de-identified for privacy)
  • give and ask for opinions on photomicrographs
  • comment on others’ posts

This can be done anytime, anywhere, from any device and even outside of their daily routine work after hours. Usage is free of charge, no budget decisions need to be taken and no IT department to be involved.

While the interaction between pathologists on social media usually includes the exchange on new regulations, medical trends, educational videos and content links, the focus seems to rest on sharing and discussing interesting, rare and ambiguous histology images with experts around the world.

Not only for regions, where pathologist expertise is widely scattered, also for exchanging additional opinions about a case can make a difference to the quality of patient treatment. General pathologists consult with colleagues qualified in subspecialties on complex or rare cases. However, direct communication with their personal network is cumbersome and subject ­­­to both technical and availability constraints. By posting a snapshot taken with their smartphone through the microscope ocular or a screenshot of a dedicated area of the whole slide image on Twitter, pathologists can open up possibilities to receive additional opinions from virtually all experts of the field available worldwide.

Explore and Build Pathological Knowledge

Digitising medical and pathological knowledge and thereby giving broad access as a resource can only be an advantage: Building online libraries of medical publications was one step on the digital journey. Additional potential to explore and build pathological knowledge unfolds in what is aggregated and made publicly available on social media: images with comments, rare cases and photomicrographs suitable for training. Pathologists value the knowledge available free of charge and instantly via social media channels.

Residents join social groups or follow long-standing experts to expand their knowledge, use it as an educational training field, learn and absorb. At the same time, pathologists constantly come across more complex or rare cases outside their particular expertise. Leveraging public networks means they can get easy and fast consolidation of their initial assessment.

Being Part of the Community

Engaging in social media networks and groups makes us feel part of a community. Whenever pathologists collaborate with experts in the same profession via social media, they contribute or benefit from the community knowledge. This fosters a unique feeling of belonging and playing a role in the huge complex healthcare system. One of the ultimate goals of social networks is, to extend the professional network and eventually turn an initial virtual ‘like’, ‘follow’ or ‘reply’ into a real physical, beneficial interaction.

Live tweets on pathology events and conferences are a welcome form of exchange to learn what went on in a parallel conference session. They are not only fostering the community of participants about the event and keep memories alive. Social media is also used to continue discussion initiated in sessions or poster presentations, letting the entire pathology community join in.

The Merits of Group Collaboration

More and more of the group collaboration is turning to social media, in particular to Facebook groups, as they “provided a no-cost way for pathologists and others across the world to interact online with many colleagues”2. Here, various topics such as histology findings can be discussed in a closed, hence locally unlimited real-time setting.

Group objectives are manifold. Some objectives form around specific subspecialties, giving space to focused exchange in that field. There are smaller, often temporary groups that become means of communication during the preparation of papers, studies or publications. In education, residents can turn to groups to ask questions or discuss their educational success online with their fellow students from other universities.

Most social channels provide private chat possibilities. Tools to send private messages enable pathologists to continue public or group-wide discussions in a very private environment. It is common, that a post turns into a lively discussion between the posting pathologist and a commenter – or even between commenters. This hints to the next driver for pathologists using social media: building their own professional network and career.

Self-branding, Institute-advocacy and Other Career Kicks

Every post pathologists make has the potential to identify them as recognised experts in a subfield and suitable to give a qualified second opinion, eligible for teaching opportunities or candidate to give speeches.

Unlike large hospitals, not many private pathological institutes have dedicated manpower to run marketing initiatives for their organisations. When it comes to international reputation building, communication of the latest research results or simply promoting vacancies, the social media engagement of their pathology staff can be a real asset.

No social network pathologist’s motivation is driven by only one of the above-named goals. Usually, their interaction on social channels combines all of them and even mixes with private interest posts and tweets. What unifies them couldn’t be a more noble intention: to understand disease and help people to heal people.

Antje Reich is Digital Marketer and Content Creator at microDimensions GmbH, a provider of integrated and efficient software and services for digital pathology applications.

This article was originally published by Antje Reich, microDimensions, October 2017, and is published in a condensed version with permission.

References
    1. Real-time analytics data for past 30 days on 29 September 2017: https://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/ontology/pathology/
    2. Gonzalez et al: Facebook Discussion Groups Provide a Robust Worldwide Platform for Free Pathology Education, Arch Pathol Lab Med 141, pp. 690-695, May 2017

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