Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (3)

Clay Shirky: Physicians And Patients Need To Fuse Their Online Conversations

New Media guru Clay Shirky was the keynote speaker at the Management of Change conference in Norfolk, Virginia. His recent book, Here Comes Everybody, is considered a must-read by most web 2.0 enthusiasts. Clay and I escaped the conference for a tête-á-tête at a local Starbucks where we wrestled with the thorny issues of healthcare and crowd sourcing.

Dr. Val: I’ve noticed that there is a difference between being right and being influential. Doctors are having a hard time adjusting their tone to be more compelling in a social media culture. What do you think physicians can do to be more influential online?

Shirky: The problem is that, since we all die eventually, everyone will be unhappy with their healthcare at some point. This creates a social dilemma that’s neither transitory nor small. First, there will always be snake oil salesmen peddling “eternal life,” and second, there will always be an unhappy faction who rail against the medical establishment. You should not try to stamp out that faction, but referee it. Federalist Papers No. 10 states that faction is the normal case of government – the trick is not to allow factions to gain disproportionate power. Physicians need to realize that patients have different priorities than they do, and speak to those as much as possible.

Dr. Val: What do you mean that we have different priorities?

Shirky: Take Medpedia for example – physicians are eager to write about rare types of liver cancer, but they don’t want to write about the basics of biopsy technique. For the physician, it’s perfectly obvious what a liver biopsy entails, so he/she doesn’t think to write about it. But the patient is probably more interested in learning about biopsy procedure than the scientific details of a rare liver cancer. The entries in Medpedia strongly reflect physician interests and priorities, though the resource is ultimately supposed to serve the educational needs of patients.

Dr. Val: What’s the best way to close that gap in priorities?

Shirky: We need to fuse the conversation between physicians and patients. The more they work together, the more valuable the content will be.

Dr. Val: What do you think about the trend towards “user-generated healthcare?”

Shirky: It’s important to have checks and balances. When lay people discuss medicine, their unguided conversation can degenerate into vitamin hucksterism. I think that whole movement was initiated when the FDA decided not to regulate the supplement industry – people have been used to getting input from others who aren’t scientifically qualified. Now everyone gives medical advice, and people listen.

Social media is a very new phenomenon. We have not figured out how to apply good checks and balances yet – amateurs’ opinions and voices can drown out the experts. We want to believe that everyone’s opinion is equally valid – but that’s just not the case. In the end, quality and clarity of messaging is a source of power.

You may also like these posts

Read comments »

3 Responses to “Clay Shirky: Physicians And Patients Need To Fuse Their Online Conversations”

  1. Interesting! I hope we get a lot of discussion. I would dispute that the Medpedia is just for patients. I think it is conceived as also being a resource for doctors. And its content will evolve.

    I don't think Clay is giving us too many answers, but is he asking the right questions?

  2. Victor says:

    And there will always be an unhappy faction among the medical establishment who rail against positive change. It's not always patients who do the “railing.”

  3. Victor says:

    And there will always be an unhappy faction among the medical establishment who rail against positive change. It's not always patients who do the “railing.”


  1. Better Health » The 5 Best And Worst Recent Health Policy Quotes

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »