Have you ever participated in an online event? If not, let me introduce you to these and consider briefly how such “virtual meetings” might improve the conversations we are all having about health care.

Last Wednesday, I participated in two online events – I can actually say that I participated in both events at the same time. One was an hour long tweet chat from 9-10 pm. This was the weekly @hcsmca tweet chat. You can find out more about this weekly event here along with a very detailed description of how you can join. This online event is held every Wednesday , usually from 1-2 pm Eastern Time. It is held from 9-10 pm Eastern Time the last Wednesday of every month. You can find out what the weekly topic is by following @hcsmca on twitter. The chat is for anyone interested in health care.

The second event I participated in was #BellLetsTalk Day. This event was inaugurated in 2010 as part of an effort to end the stigma surrounding psychiatric illness. Over $6 million was raised this year alone in a twenty-four hour online event. Bell pledged 5 cents for every post, tweet, retweet, text, etc. that contained #BellLetsTalk in the text. Throughout the day, whenever I had a minute, I would generate more retweets and add to conversations. I’ve talked about #BellLetsTalk before, however, so I’m not going to consider it further.

What interests me most about online communication is that it breaks down barriers, allowing me to participate in conversations from the comfort of my own home. I am the kind of person who goes to community meetings and learns so much that I wonder why I don’t go more often. However, I quickly realize that I often don’t feel like battling traffic or weather to get to meetings. Well, there is no need to worry about either at an online meeting. An online meeting is very accessible.

The topics for these meetings can be very timely. For example, the #hcsmca tweet chat last week considered whether health care professionals have the same rights of free speech on social media as other users. This is the summary of the conversation.

The chat considered two blogs, one of which was mine. The comments caused me to consider how I decide what to say and how I express my opinion.  I am as careful as I can be not to release another’s story. On this blog, I always state what permissions I have obtained and note whether the information is already in the public domain. I do try to present views or opinions that have a different angle that those that have already been publicly expressed, but my goal is to do this in such a way as to be heard. I do change my mind when convinced that I have erred or not had all the evidence. Some people seem to more freely express their opinions online than in person, as if it is easier to speak their mind when they do not have to look someone in the eye. This is one of the risks, blurting something out in a tweet.

Personally, I miss people’s reactions, verbal and nonverbal, when I am expressing an opinion. These are communications that I rely on when deciding whether what I am saying makes sense or not. In this respect, social media lets me down. What is not disappointing, however, is being able to discuss a clinical problem from the perspective of patient, care provider, family member and healthcare journalist. There are so many elements of a clinical issue that can be considered in an online forum because literally anyone can participate. Also, if I am reminded of an especially good article or website during an event, I can find it because I have all my own resources at my fingertips. I like that – how often have you wanted to answer someone right away with the research that proves your point?

There is so much potential for social media and the internet in healthcare that I cannot get my head around it. The #hcsmca chat on Wednesdays begins to consider some of that potential. I am finding that the views expressed are helping me to be more informed about healthcare and the internet.

With my new interest, I am reading articles I would never have looked at previously. For example, look at this month’s issue of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which is entirely devoted to the internet.

Some of the concepts described are so innovative that I can barely understand them but they do convince me that online meetings promote a more thorough consideration of issues than some face-to face meetings. You should join us sometime at the #hcsmca chat and see what I mean.

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