I’m going to be on a panel at the American College of Surgeons 96th Annual Clinical Congress on October 5 in Washington, DC. The session title is pretty provocative: To Tweet or Become Extinct?: Why Surgeons Need to Understand Social Networking and my part of it uses the “e” word that I recently tried to swear off: The E-patient is In: How Social Networking Can Make You A Better Surgeon.

This is a different audience for me — all M.D.s, no “civilians” — so I have been preparing for it with special care.

Last week’s Mayo Transform symposium offered me a chance to learn from surgeon Catherine R. deVries, M.D. and from critical care specialist/anesthesiologist Alice A. Tolbert Coombs, M.D. I learn every day from surgeons who use social media, such as Howard Luks, M.D., and trailblazing docs who aren’t surgeons, such as Kevin Pho, M.D.

My reading list has included a review of the 2008 Archives of Surgery article, “E-mail Access and Improved Communication Between Patient and Surgeon,” and the great discussion we had about it on this blog. I also re-read Joanne Disch’s essay in the Journal of Participatory Medicine, “Participatory Health Care: Perspective from a Nurse Leader,” about her experience in a collaborative cardiovascular surgery work environment, as well as Bill Claxton’s monster post about how he – a patient – helped develop a surgical plan to treat his cancer. One book I read in preparation for this panel was Sherwin Nuland’s The Soul of Medicine (here’s an NPR interview if you are audio-inclined).

In the spirit I try to bring to all my work, I’d love to open up the discussion early and bring in insights from anyone who would like to share.  Can social media make someone a better surgeon? What evidence would you present?  What stories would you tell?

Alternatively, why does social networking matter for surgeons? As one person said to me, “I didn’t pick my surgeon for his communication skills, I picked him because of he’s the very best at this procedure!”

Enlighten me on any side of this you care to take.

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