Back to the freezer

On the flight back from Cebu City, the Phillipines to Ottawa through a 60c degree variation in temperature I have  been trying to figure out what to make of it all.

Beyond the overwhelming experiences of being thrown into the loud and fast-paced heart of a Phillipine city with all its beeping jeepneys and indescribable cuisine, I would like to encapsulate just what it meant to be part of the first ever Phillipine conference on social media in health care(#hcsmph).

Truly, the success of the conference with 450 delegates and a full day of well-attended and debated sessions (and a twitter stream with more than 6 million impressions) speaks directly to the influence of social media itself.

This conference came about solely because four physicians in different parts of the country met on Twitter and started a regular tweetchat in the Phillipines (#healthxph) which has served to jumpstart the entire movement.

Drs. Gia Sison (@giasison), Iris Thiele Isip Tan (@endocrine_witch), Remo Aquilar (@bonedoc) and Narciso Tapia (@cebumd) had never all met in person before the Cebu conference. But together with Dr. Helen Madamba (@helenvmadamba) , a respected ob/gyn who they refer to as the baby of the group, they coalesced around Twitter and logistically were able to pull together the planning, sponsorship and other details necessary to hold the meeting.

They also put their stamp on how social media will be used properly by cloudsourcing a manifesto on the appropriate use of social media tools by health care professionals, of which I was truly honoured to be one of the initial signatories.

Discussions at the conference made it clear that Phillipine health care professionals from physicians and nurses to informatics experts and patient advocates are already exploring the use of social media want to use it more to deliver care in that country.

But discussions also underscored how the individual realities of available infrastructure and cultural differences will shape just how social media gets used by a health care community even if the face of social media is a global one.

At #hcsmph I was privileged to meet Dr. Teddy Herbosa (@teddybird), an emergency physician and former Undersecretary of Health. In discussions we realized that the ‘think globally, act locally” mantra applies well to social media in health care.

Hearing Gia discuss first hand her experiences with using social media to deal with breast cancer was a professional highlight of this trip. But what will live in my memory is riding through the dark streets of Cebu in the back of an SUV listening to Dr. Tapia mangle popular songs with Twitter references accompanied by laughter from all.

Eastward Ho … with laptop, iPad and mobile!


It has been 30 years since I last travelled across the Pacific.

The trip will doubtless be as long and as exhausting as it was back in 1985 but it is taking place in a very different communications environment.

In 1985 I accompanied a group of Vancouver-area family physicians on a three-week trip to observe traditional and modern medicine in China. I was working for The Medical Post at the time and the powers-that-be wanted a special feature to mark the transition of the paper from twice-weekly to weekly publication.

Armed with my trusty TRS-80 from Radio Shack, the idea was that I would write stories about the trip and file them back to Canada for publication within the week: Cutting edge stuff for medical journalism. Alas, things did not work out quite as planned on the technology front. Those journalists of a certain vintage will recall the TRS-80 (known affectionately as the ‘Trash 80’) as one of, if not the original, laptops. It would display about 7 lines of type and you transmitted copy at a rate of about 100 words a minute using suction cups attached to the telephone receiver. Unfortunately, the Chinese phone system – when available – was not up to this radical technology and so I was forced to narrate my copy verbally on poor lines, and most people first got word of what I was up to about 2 weeks later.

Fast forward to 2015. At the kind invitation of a group of physicians in the Philippines I have been invited to speak at the first Philippine health care and social media conference in Cebu on Feb. 21.

Of course – good wifi connection willing – I will be live tweeting from the conference as well as blogging – and all of this will be available in real time. Should I feel ambitious enough, I will use my trusty (but now also defunct technology) Flipcam to record and post video to YouTube, also in real time. When I want to make a personal connection I will be able to use Skype to call home.

My whole real time connection with bleak and wintery Ottawa while in Ceub is something I will take for granted.

I know my sense of wonder will be just an unimpaired in viewing Cebu as it was when seeing Harbin or Shanghai 30 years ago. But the wonder of instantaneous communication is something that seems to have crept up on us and passed us by.