Social Media in Clinical Practice by Bertalan Meskó [Book Review]

13 09 2013

How to review a book on Medical Social Media written by an author, who has learned you many Social Media skills himself?

Thanks to people like Bertalan Meskó, the author of the book concerned,  I am not a novice in the field of Medical Social Media.

But wouldn’t it be great if all newcomers in the medical social media field could benefit from Bertalan’s knowledge and expertise? Bertalan Meskó, a MD with a  Summa Cum Laude PhD degree in clinical genomics, has already shared his insights by posts on award-winning blog ScienceRoll, via Twitter and (an online service that curates health-related social media resources), by giving presentations and social media classes to medical students and physicians.

But many of his students rather read (or reread) the topics in a book instead of e-learning materials. Therefore Bertalan decided to write a handbook entitled “Social Media in Clinical Practice”.

This is the table of contents (for more complete overview see Amazon):

  1. Social media is transforming medicine and healthcare
  2. Using medical search engines with a special focus on Google
  3. Being up-to-date in medicine
  4. Community sites Facebook, Google+ and medical social networks
  5. The world of e-patients
  6. Establishing a medical blog
  7. The role of Twitter and microblogging in medicine
  8. Collaboration online
  9. Wikipedia and Medical Wikis
  10. Organizing medical events in virtual environments
  11. Medical smartphone and tablet applications
  12. Use of social media by hospitals and medical practices
  13. Medical video and podcast
  14. Creating presentations and slideshows
  15. E-mails and privacy concerns
  16. Social bookmarking
  17. Conclusions

As you can see, many social media tools are covered and in this respect the book is useful for everyone, including patients and consumers.

But what makes “Social Media in Clinical Practice” especially valuable for medical students and clinicians?

First, specific medical search engines/social media sites/tools are discussed, like (Pubmed [medical database, search engine], Sermo [Community site for US physicians], Medworm [aggregator of RSS feeds], medical smartphone apps and sources where to find them, Medical Wiki’s like Radiopaedia.
Scientific Social media sites, with possible relevance to physicians are also discussed, like Google Scholar and Wolphram Alpha.

Second, numerous medical examples are given (with links and descriptions). Often, examples are summarized in tables in the individual chapters (see Fig 1 for a random example 😉 ). Links can also be found at the end of the book, organized per chapter.

12-9-2013 7-20-28 Berci examples of blogs

Fig 1. Examples represented in a Table

Third, community sites and non-medical social media tools are discussed from the medical prespective. With regard to community sites and tools like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Email special emphasis is placed on (for clinicians very important) quality, privacy and legacy concerns, for instance the compliance of websites and blogs with the HONcode (HON=The Health On the Net Foundation) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), the privacy settings in Facebook and Social Media Etiquette (see Fig 2).

12-9-2013 7-40-18 berci facebook patient

Fig. 2 Table from “Social Media in Clinical Practice” p 42

The chapters are succinctly written, well organized and replete with numerous examples. I specifically like the practical examples (see for instance Example #4).

12-9-2013 11-19-39 berci example

Fig 3 Example of Smartphone App for consumers

Some tools are explained in more detail, i.e. the anatomy of a tweet or a stepwise description how to launch a WordPress blog.
Most chapters end with a self test (questions),  next steps (encouraging to put the theory into practice) and key points.

Thus in many ways a very useful book for clinical practice (also see the positive reviews on Amazon and the review of Dean Giustini at his blog).

Are there any shortcomings, apart from the minimal language-shortcomings, mentioned by Dean?

Personally I find that discussions of the quality of websites concentrate a bit too much on the formal quality (contact info, title, subtitle etc)). True, it is of utmost importance, but quality is also determined by  content and clinical usefulness. Not all websites that are formally ok deliver good content and vice versa.

As a medical  librarian I pay particular attention to the search part, discussed in chapter 3 and 4.
Emphasis is put on how to create alerts in PubMed and Google Scholar, thus on the social media aspects. However searches are shown, that wouldn’t make physicians very happy, even if used as an alert: who wants a PubMed-alert for cardiovascular disease retrieving 1870195 hits? This is even more true for a the PubMed search “genetics” (rather meaningless yet non-comprehensive term).
More importantly, it is not explained when to use which search engine.  I understand that a search course is beyond the scope of this book, but a subtitle like “How to Get Better at Searching Online?” suggests otherwise. At least there should be hints that searching might be more complicated in practice, preferably with link to sources and online courses.  Getting too much hits or the wrong ones will only frustrate physicians (also to use the socia media tools, that are otherwise helpful).

But overall I find it a useful, clearly written and well structured practical handbook. “Social Media in Clinical Practice” is unique in his kind – I know of no other book that is alike-. Therefore I recommend it to all medical students and health care experts who are interested in digital medicine and social media.

This book will also be very useful to clinicians who are not very fond of social media. Their reluctance may change and their understanding of social medicine developed or enhanced.

Lets face it: a good clinician can’t do without digital knowledge. At the very least his patients use the internet and he must be able to act as a gatekeeper identifying and filtering thrustworty, credible and understandable information. Indeed, as Berci writes in his conclusion:

“it obviously is not a goal to transform all physicians into bloggers and Twitter users, but (..) each physician should find the platforms, tools and solutions that can assist them in their workflow.”

If not convinced I would recommend clinicians to read the blog post written at the the Fauquier ENT-blog (refererred to by Bertalan in chapter 6, #story 5) entiteld: As A Busy Physician, Why Do I Even Bother Blogging?

SM in Practice (AMAZON)

Book information: (also see Amazon):

  • Title: Social Media in Clinical Practice
  • Author: Bertalan Meskó
  • Publisher: Springer London Heidelberg New York Dordrecht
  • 155 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-4471-4305-5
  • ISBN 978-1-4471-4306-2 (eBook)
  • ISBN-10: 1447143051
  • DOI 10.1007/978-1-4471-4306-2
  • $37.99 (Sept 2013) (pocket at Amazon)

Between the Lines. Finding the Truth in Medical Literature [Book Review]

19 07 2013

In the 1970s a study was conducted among 60 physicians and physicians-in-training. They had to solve a simple problem:

“If a test to detect a disease whose prevalence is 1/1000 has a false positive rate of 5 %, what is the chance that a person found to have a positive result actually has the disease, assuming that you know nothing about the person’s symptoms or signs?” 

Half of the “medical experts” thought the answer was 95%.
Only a small proportion, 18%, of the doctors arrived at the right answer of 2%.

If you are a medical expert who comes the same faulty conclusion -or need a refresher how to arrive at the right answer- you might benefit from the book written by Marya Zilberberg: “Between the Lines. Finding the Truth in Medical Literature”.

The same is true for a patient whose doctor thinks he/she is among the 95% to benefit form such a test…
Or for journalists who translate medical news to the public…
Or for peer reviewers or editors who have to assess biomedical papers…

In other words, this book is useful for everyone who wants to be able to read “between the lines”. For everyone who needs to examine medical literature critically from time to time and doesn’t want to rely solely on the interpretation of others.

I hope that I didn’t scare you off with the abovementioned example. Between the Lines surely is NOT a complicated epidemiology textbook, nor a dull studybook where you have to struggle through a lot of definitions, difficult tables and statistic formulas and where each chapter is followed by a set of review questions that test what you learned.

This example is presented half way the book, at the end of Part I. By then you have enough tools to solve the question yourself. But even if you don’t feel like doing the exact calculation at that moment, you have a solid basis to understand the bottomline: the (enormous) 93% gap (95% vs 2% of the people with a positive test are considered truly positive) serves as the pool for overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

In the previous chapters of Part I (“Context”), you have learned about the scientific methods in clinical research, uncertainty as the only certain feature of science, the importance of denominators, outcomes that matter and outcomes that don’t, Bayesian probability, evidence hierarchies, heterogeneous treatment effects (does the evidence apply to this particular patient?) and all kinds of biases.

Most reviewers prefer part I of the book. Personally I find part II (“Evaluation”) as interesting.

Part II deals with the study question, and study design, pros and cons of observational and interventional studies, validity, hypothesis testing and statistics.

Perhaps part II  is somewhat less narrative. Furthermore, it deals with tougher topics like statistics. But I find it very valuable for being able to critically appraise a study. I have never seen a better description of “ODDs”: somehow ODDs it is better to grasp if you substitute “treatment A” and “treatment B” for “horse A” and “horse B”, and substitute “death” for “loss of a race”.
I knew the basic differences between cohort studies, case control studies and so on, but I kind of never realized before that ODDs Ratio is the only measure of association available in a case-control study and that case control studies cannot estimate incidence or prevalence (as shown in a nice overview in table 4).

Unlike many other books about “the art of reading of medical articles”, “study designs” or “Evidence Based Medicine”, Marya’s book is easy to read. It is written at a conversational tone and statements are illustrated by means of current, appealing examples, like the overestimation of risk of death from the H1N1 virus, breast cancer screening and hormone replacement therapy.

Although I had printed this book in a wrong order (page 136 next to 13 etc), I was able to read (and understand) 1/3 of the book (the more difficult part II) during a 2 hour car trip….

Because this book is comprehensive, yet accessible, I recommend it highly to everyone, including fellow librarians.

Marya even mentions medical librarians as a separate target audience:

Medical librarians may find this book particularly helpful: Being at the forefront of evidence dissemination, they can lead the charge of separating credible science from rubbish.

(thanks Marya!)

In addition, this book may be indirectly useful to librarians as it may help to choose appropriate methodological filters and search terms for certain EBM-questions. In case of etiology questions words like “cohort”, “case-control”, “odds”, “risk” and “regression” might help to find the “right” studies.

By the way Marya Ziberberg @murzee at Twitter and she writes at her blog Healthcare etc.

p.s. 1 I want to apologize to Marya for writing this review more than a year after the book was published. For personal reasons I found little time to read and blog. Luckily the book lost none of its topicality.

p.s. 2 patients who are not very familiar with critical reading of medical papers might benefit from reading “your medical mind” first [1]. 

bwtn the lines

Amazon Product Details

Searching Skills Toolkit. Finding the Evidence [Book Review]

4 03 2010

Most books on Evidence Based Medicine give little attention to the first two steps of EBM: asking focused answerable questions and searching the evidence. Being able to appraise an article, but not being able to find the best evidence may be challenging and frustrating to the busy clinicians.

Searching Skills Toolkit: Finding The Evidence” is a pocket-sized book that aims to instruct the clinician how to search for evidence. It is the third toolkit book in the series edited by Heneghan et al. (author of the CEBM-blog Trust the Evidence). The authors Caroline de Brún and Nicola Pearce Smith are experts in searching (librarian and information scientist respectively).

According to the description at Wiley’s, the distinguishing feature of this searching skills book,  is its user-friendliness. “The guiding principle is that readers do not want to become librarians, but they are faced with practical difficulties when searching for evidence, such as lack of skills, lack of time and information overload. They need to learn simple search skills, and be directed towards the right resources to find the best evidence to support their decision-making.”

Does this book give guidance that makes searching for evidence easy? Is this book the ‘perfect companion’ to doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, managers, researchers and students, as it promises?

I find it difficult to answer, partly because I’m not a clinician and partly because, being a medical information specialist myself, I would frequently tackle a search otherwise.

The booklet is in pocket-size, easy to take along. The lay-out is clear and pleasant. The approach is original and practical. Despite its small size, the booklet contains a wealth of information. Table one, for instance, gives an overview of truncation symbols, wildcards and Boolean operators for Cochrane, Dialog, EBSCO, OVID, PubMed and Webspirs (see photo). And although this is mouth watering for many medical librarians one wonders whether this detailed information is really useful for the clinician.

Furthermore 34 pages of the 102 (1/3) are devoted on searching these specific health care databases. IMHO of these databases only PubMed and the Cochrane Library are useful to the average clinician. In addition most of the screenshots of the individual databases are too small to read. And due to the PubMed Redesign the PubMed description is no longer up-to-date.

The readers are guided to the chapters on searching by asking themselves beforehand:

  1. The time available to search: 5 minutes, an hour or time to do a comprehensive search. This is an important first step, which is often not considered by other books and short guides.
    Primary sources, secondary sources and ‘other’ sources are given per time available. This is all presented in a table with reference to key chapters and related chapters. These particular chapters enable the reader to perform these short, intermediate or long searches.
  2. What type of publication he is looking for: a guideline, a systematic review, patient information or an RCT (with tips where to find them).
  3. Whether the query is about a specific topic, i.e. drug or safety information or health statistics.

All useful information, but I would have discussed topic 3 before covering EBM, because this doesn’t fit into the ‘normal’ EBM search.  So for drug information you could directly go to the FDA, WHO or EMEA website. Similarly, if my question was only to find a guideline I would simply search one or more guideline databases.
Furthermore it would be more easy to pile the small, intermediate and long searches upon each other instead of next to each other. The basic principle would be (in my opinion at least) to start with a PICO and to (almost) always search for secondary searches first (fast), search for primary publications (original research) in PubMed if necessary and broaden the search in other databases (broad search) in case of exhaustive searches. This is easy to remember, even without the schemes in the book.

Some minor points. There is an overemphasis on UK-sources. So the first source to find guidelines is the (UK) National Library of Guidelines, where I would put the National Guideline Clearinghouse (or the TRIP-database) first. And why is MedlinePlus not included as a source for patients, whereas NHS-choices is?

There is also an overemphasis on interventions. How PICO’s are constructed for other domains (diagnosis, etiology/harm and prognosis) is barely touched upon. It is much more difficult to make PICOs and search in these domains. More practical examples would also have been helpful.

Overall, I find this book very useful. The authors are clearly experts in searching and they fill a gap in the market: there is no comparable book on “the searching of the evidence”. Therefore, despite some critique and preferences for another approach, I do recommend this book to doctors who want to learn basic searching skills. As a medical information specialist I keep it in my pocket too: just in case…


What I liked about the book:

  • Pocket size, easy to take a long.
  • Well written
  • Clear diagrams
  • Broad coverage
  • Good description of (many) databases
  • Step for step approach

What I liked less about it:

  • Screen dumps are often too small to read and thereby not useful
  • Emphasis on UK-sources
  • Other domains than “therapy” (etiology/harm, prognosis, diagnosis) are almost not touched upon
  • Too few clinical examples
  • A too strict division in short, intermediate and long searches: these are not intrinsically different

The Chapters

  1. Introduction.
  2. Where to start? Summary tables and charts.
  3. Sources of clinical information: an overview.
  4. Using search engines on the World Wide Web.
  5. Formulating clinical questions.
  6. Building a search strategy.
  7. Free text versus thesaurus.
  8. Refining search results.
  9. Searching specific healthcare databases.
  10. Citation pearl searching.
  11. Saving/recording citations for future use.
  12. Critical appraisal.
  13. Further reading by topic or PubMed ID.
  14. Glossary of terms.
  15. Appendix 1: Ten tips for effective searching.
  16. Appendix 2: Teaching tips


  1. Searching Skills Toolkit – Finding The Evidence (Paperback – 2009/02/17) by Caroline De Brún and Nicola Pearce-smith; Carl Heneghan et al (Editors). Wiley-Blackell BMJ\ Books
  2. Kamal R Mahtani Evid Based Med 2009;14:189 doi:10.1136/ebm.14.6.189 (book review by a clinician)

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