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Outsourcing Relationships And Peddling Influence: Why Social Media Is Not Fun Anymore

When I first started blogging in 2006, the medical blogosphere consisted of a small group of physicians, nurses, and patient advocates. We knew each other well, and spent time each day visiting our favorite blogs and posting personal comments of encouragement and insight. We developed real friendships, and were optimistic about our brave new online writing frontier. We thought we could change the healthcare system for the better, we believed that our perspectives could influence policy, and we were sure that our writing could help our patients lead healthier lives.

I remember with great fondness the medical blogger conference that I attended in Las Vegas in 2009. It was the first time I’d met most of my blog friends in real life (IRL) – it was like seeing your favorite pen pals after years of correspondence. We talked all night, had marveled at how a love of writing had brought together a surgeon from South Africa, an ER nurse from California, and a Canadian rehab physician, among others. We figured that social media was the glue that held us all together. Since then, I am sad to say that for me, the glue has lost its stickiness due to dilution by third parties and a glut of poor quality content dividing attentions and exhausting our brains’ filter system.

Fast forward 7 years and most of my email correspondence is from strangers wanting to embed text links in my blog, people selling SEO services, or PR agencies inviting me to provide free coverage of their industry-sponsored conferences and webinars. I can’t think of a single friend who has left a comment on my blog in the past three months. Sure we see each other’s updates on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter, but I can’t remember the last real conversation we’ve had. Social Media has become irreversibly cluttered, and I’ve never felt more isolated or guarded about the future of medical writing.

My thoughts on this subject gelled when Twitter announced that LeBron James was following me (along with a select 80,000+ others). Obviously, LeBron has no idea who I am, and I’m almost certain he had nothing to do with his Twitter account following me. He, like many others, has outsourced his online relationship-making. It’s the ultimate irony – using social media to distance yourself from others, while maintaining an appearance of engagement. Sort of like sending a blow up doll of yourself to a party.

So what keeps some people going on these social media platforms? Perhaps it’s the allure of influence – the idea that many people are listening to you gives a sense of importance and meaning to your efforts. But take a cold hard look at your followers – do you know who most of them are? Or is there a large group of “hotchick123″ type Twitter accounts counted among them? I used to block followers who didn’t seem real or relevant, but it became so much of a chore that I couldn’t keep up. I was overwhelmed by the Huns.

One could argue that my social media fatigue  is my own fault – I didn’t screen my followers properly, I didn’t follow the “right” people, I haven’t curated my friendships with as much care as I ought to… But I know I’m not alone in my pessimism. A recent Pew Research poll suggests that people are leaving Facebook at a rapid rate. And as far as Twitter is concerned, it’s not for everyone.

I guess the bottom line for me is that social media isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I miss my blog friends, I miss the early days of being part of an online community. I don’t write as much as I used to because I don’t know my audience by name anymore. This “party” is full of strangers and I don’t like the familiarity that continues in the absence of true friendship.

Time to spend more of my energy on my patients, family, and friends IRL. And that’s a good lesson for a doctor to learn…

The New Science Of Social Networks Shows The Spread Of Weight And Happiness Among Friends

The people you live with, work with, talk to, email, chatter with on Twitter and Facebook—your social network—can be good medicine, or bad.

The intriguing new science of social networks is demonstrating how personal interconnections can affect our health. Ideas and habits that influence health for better or for worse can spread through social networks in much the same way that germs spread through communities. In social networks, though, transmission can happen even though the people may be hundreds of miles apart.

An article in the December issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch explores how social networks can affect weight and mood.

Spreading weight

A study of people taking part in the landmark Framingham Heart Study found that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

The Power Of A Community: A Paradigm Shift To Be Grateful For

Last week (was it only a week ago?  My time-space continuum is completely off kilter these days), I was out in San Francisco for a quick visit at the Lifescan Town Hall meeting.

Okay, I was actually in Milpitas, which is a nice little place that the driver from the airport inadvertently described as, “Why are you going there?” Not exactly the same excitement as the home of the Golden Gate Bridge and other sights I saw from the car, but close.

I was asked to come out and talk about life with diabetes to a large group of Lifescan employees (they make the One Touch meters and they clearly like people who play guitar because Crystal Bowersox and B.B. King are their buddies, so I felt a little musically inept).  I wasn’t asked to talk about my meter, or my pump, or to pimp out any partnerships, etc.  They just wanted to hear about life with diabetes.  Plain life.  Real life.

Because I don’t have a formal bone in my body (all of my bones are in sweatpants and baseball caps), and because I didn’t have any airs to put on, I just stood on that stage showed them our community.  I showed them some of our blogs, and talked about some of our meet-ups.  I showed them that while life with diabetes can be challenging, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*

What Patients Really Need: A 360 Degree View Of Their Illness

As we often say at Patient Power, there is no one source for medical information. The same is true when it comes to support for patients. No one organization is THE place to go and has all the answers.

That may sound obvious. But just as it has taken a long time to dislodge the “Doctor as God” perception or “I’m the doctor and you’re not” put-down of “problem patients,” there have been some non-profit advocacy groups that have seen themselves as the “be all and end all” for conditions they cover. In both cases, the arrogant doctor and the “100,000 pound gorilla” organization, neither took what I call the “big tent” view. In their view, they were the tent and there was no room for anyone else. That’s never been our view and I wanted to tell you how we are celebrating our relationships with a multitude of partners, many of whom are becoming friends. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Lots Of Thanksgiving

A mom who took care of us kids far better than she did herself, always. A Dad whose advice grew better with years, although it was good then. Two brothers and a sister to share a driveway basketball court with, rain or shine. The infinite love of grandparents, who lived within hollering distance over an old Connecticut stone wall.

A high school guidance counselor who said I wasn’t smart enough to go to medical school. A college biology professor who rolled out a cart of beers on that first Friday evening research conference. That I watched the movie “Hoosiers” and thought to look at Indiana University for residency, and while there met so many dedicated cardiology teachers.

That I have so many great colleagues to work with now. Immersing oneself in a sea of committed people helps the heart. Medical peeps are a cool crowd. That technological wizardry has allowed us on opportunity to alleviate the heart’s most common hiccup, the AF.

That our family has found some great pals to hang with. Friends that allow us to wear tank tops, shorts and crocs with socks when we visit. But most of all, I am thankful for a family that I would not change one bit — a loving wife who is a best friend, and smart healthy kids who like themselves, each other, and their parents (at least most of the time).



Oops…I am thankful that I am a master bike racer, too. Only I wish that I was faster.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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