This week it’s my great pleasure to shine a spotlight on the work of Dr Liam Farrell, an award-winning writer and broadcaster, an irrepressible humourist, and talented musician, and the founder of #IrishMed – Ireland’s first healthcare tweet chat.
Congratulations Liam on the success of #IrishMed. Can you tell us what led you to start the tweet chat?
LF: I started the #IrishMed tweetchat over two years ago. I’d been taking part in other tweet chats such as #hcldr and #hcsm, and co-hosted a few, for #hpm and #dwdchat. On one of these (won’t say which, there was only one regular responder, which made it a long sixty minutes, so thanks Kathy Kastner for not leaving me high and dry). I’d found them interesting and stimulating, and then reckoned that we needed a similar chat on this side of the world.
I really like how you’ve brought an international audience together for #IrishMed. Was this your original intention?
LF: Initially I’d expected only Irish tweeps would get involved, but it rapidly grew into a global network, with regular participants from North America, Africa + Asia (we go out at 6 am in the morning in the Philippines, so fair dues to my good friends over there). It goes to show that health issues are universal. Connecting with people and making friends from all across the globe has been a wonderful experience, all generous with their time and their wisdom, all trying to make the world a better place. #IrishMed is also non-hierarchical; all perspectives are valuable, whether specialist, generalist, patient, advocate, carer or general public, and it all helps to in breaking down the artificial barriers between healthcare professional and patients; after all every HCP (health care professional) will be a patient one day. And the dialogue goes both ways; HCPs learn about patient frustrations, patients can more appreciate the difficulties and limitations of medical care.
When did you start using social media? Were you an early adopter of any one particular platform?
LF: My son Jack was a volunteer in Ohio for President Obama in 2012, and twitter was a great way of staying in touch with the pulse of the campaign. There is always a danger of twitter becoming an echo chamber, so I deliberately followed tweeps from all sides of the political spectrum. I’m a socialist, but like to think I’m ready to accept a persuasive argument from a different point of view.
Which platform(s) do you enjoy using the most?
LF: I use Facebook mainly to keep in touch with my family and friends. Facebook was also handy to archive my columns in one place, and I’ve started a wordpress blog recently, as many of my journal columns are subscriber only and I thought they needed the light of day. Twitter is my favourite platform, it allows rapid exchange of ideas, and at it’s best the format demands thought. The 180 character limit really forces you to make your responses punchy and concise; excessive verbosity is impossible.
Which topics do you like to follow on social media? Do you take part in any Twitter chats outside of #IrishMed?
LF: “Doctors are the natural attorneys of the poor,” said Virchow. The contribution of medical care to population health is relatively minor; much more important are the social determinants of health #SDoH, sanitation, food, education, housing. The main cause of ill-health is poverty and doctors that don’t take a political stance are reneging on their responsibilities.
I’m particularly interested in palliative care, as in my rural practice we looked after our own patients, and I was also a postgraduate tutor in palliative care. Two thirds of patients die expected deaths, and there is simply no way the palliative care speciality can look after them all. Palliative care must become a generalist skill; often it’s not complicated, and the precious skills of the specialists should be reserved for difficult cases and for education. On a wider scale, educating the general population about death and dying is also critical; it should be a subject taught in schools.
As I write late at night and in the early hours (“What hath night to do with sleep?” Milton), #hcldr and #hscm are always good timing for me. The topics are wide-ranging and the opinions diverse, and I regularly learn something new and have my prejudices challenged. #HeathXPH is on Saturday afternoon, which unfortunately conflicts with watching horse racing. #hcldr was one of the inspirations for #irishmed; the other was the advice of the irreplaceable Marie Ennis O’Connor.
Twitter is such an accessible medium for rapid exchange of information, it’s very under-utilised at the moment; so many other disciplines could get involved. Myself and my maniacally energetic friend Sharon Thompson (@sharontwriter) recently launched #WritersWise – a tweetchat for writers and aspiring writers
I recognise that SoMe is soft power; words are cheap, and as we screen-writers say, “action reveals character.” but you never know when a message will have an effect, and someone, somewhere will be helped because of it.
What advice would you give someone just starting out on social media?
LF: There is so much information out there, it can initially be bewildering. Follow the platforms that suit you best, and read Marie Ennis O’Connor’s blogs.
You’re too kind;-) Methinks the student has surpassed the master these days.
Finally, would you like to share a favourite quote to send us on our way today?
“I’m too busy to be brief;” Samuel Johnson
(One of my favourite quotes – though I think a tad ironic when it comes to Twitter! Ed)
It’s been terrific to learn more about how and why you use social media Liam and I look forward to seeing what new delights you have in store for your faithful following.
- Follow Liam on Twitter @drlfarrell
- #IrishMed takes place every Wednesday at 10 pm Irish time. To learn more and view past transcripts visit www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/irishmed
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