With more than 6000 delegates from four major clinical specialty areas (cardiology, diabetes, stroke and hypertension), the meeting was arguably the largest clinical gathering ever held in Canada. But from the perspective of social media use in medicine and Twitter as a communication and engagement tool, Vascular 2013 made it clear – once again – that Twitter and new media in general have yet to find their way into routine use.
The conference organizers cannot be faulted for this. The conference had a Twitter hashtag that was well-defined in advance – as did each of the subspecialty groups. Double hashtags can be annoying but in this instance they served to provide both a unifying factor for the conference while allowing those with specialized interests (e.g. diabetes) to channel tweets in that area. Key sponsoring organizations such as the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) and the Stroke Congress also did their part by posting official tweets and doing a good job of tweeting their own sessions.
In addition – in a conference centre where the regular cost of wifi was $150/day – the organizers made sure all delegates had access to a reliable and free wireless feed.
No, what we were lacking is a culture that integrated Twitter and other social media into the mindset of the delegates. And while it can, and has, been argued that delegates have better things to do such as concentrating on the presentations they are hearing, my personal experience is that other clinical conferences outside of Canada have far more active participation by delegates in the Twitter stream.
And it’s not just Twitter. Perhaps more important in the larger scheme, apart from one pre-conference session on helping CDA delegates understand social media, I saw no presentations or research that tested the ability of social media to help provide cardiovascular, stroke, hypertension or diabetes care. For those who feel online patient communities and other initiatives can help engage patients and improve outcomes it must surely be disappointing that nobody seems to be researching these areas.
All that aside, there were positive sides to the meeting as well.
As with each new clinical meeting I attend, new physician champions emerge who seem to take naturally to Twitter as a communication vehicle – and as a result help widen the scope of knowledge and communication. Without slighting any non-physicians who also put on a stellar showing, or those I may have missed, I would like to single out Dr. Amer Johri (@amerjohri), a cardiologist and imaging specialist from Queen’s University, Kingston. Long may he tweet.
In many instances the #vascular2013 twitter feed also well served what I believe should be its primary purpose which is to inform and educate those not able to attend the conference. Clinicians, patients, and other providers often chimed in to retweet information or better still question or challenge a tweet relayed about what the speaker was saying. Here I would reference the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH) which provided solid research from that organization on the issue of whether warfarin is still relevant in preventing stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. The tweet from CADTH in turn led to comments from other physicians and if not a lively debate, at least an exchange in views ensued.
I must end this on a more generic plea – more power outlets please in major conference venues. Wandering around looking at the walls for a power outlet and then having to sit on the floor to ensure a decent power source for a laptop is so unseemly.
Oh, and the title of this blog post. Well, it’s the title of an old Talking Heads album and all summer I have been wanting to use it, knowing it is unlikely to ever fit whatever I am writing about.