The second, on Australian Pharmacists using social media is below. .
9 October 2009 | by Fran Molloy
It’s no longer hype: the term ‘Web 2.0’ is now firmly ensconced in the mainstream as a description of today’s internet, a place where social media, participatory commentary, self publishing and blogging rule the digital roost.
Fifteen years after the World Wide Web first emerged, comments posted to newspaper articles are often as interesting as the articles themselves, and every industry seems to have its own internet gurus liberally dispensing news, opinion, criticism and ridicule.
‘Social networking’ describes the plethora of web-based applications like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube with large online communities of people with shared interests. These sites usually allow members to build a profile, in the form of a web page where you display information about yourself, your interests and your activities. Most of the sites also offer different ways for users to communicate with each other. For example, you can allow others to write a message on your profile, send messages, join a live chat or forum, share and rate other internet sites or share and comment on files (often audio, image or video.)
At the heart of social media is the blog, an online diary where news, gossip, industry issues, opinion and scandal jostle for space.
But where are the pharmacists? While member-only industry forums (like AusPharmList) attract a healthy audience happy to comment behind closed doors, few Australian pharmacists are writing blogs and there is little public commentary on pharmacy issues from pharmacists themselves.
Biting the dust
One of the best-known Australian pharmacists in the blogosphere is Andrew ‘Robbo’ Roberts, whose BiteTheDust blog attracts visitors and comments from all over the world.
“My job’s a bit broader than a standard pharmacist, I deal with a broad range of professionals, pharmacy academics, consultants, other pharmacists, remote nurses and so on,” he says.
He believes that Australian pharmacists are well qualified to take a larger role in primary health care teams – and they need to speak out more to make that happen, because the general community isn’t aware of their expertise.
“One of the reasons I started to blog was that I got frustrated at the Guild and the PSA issuing media releases about ‘incontinence week’, but when there’s a big public health issue that might involve a drug, they’d never comment. Other professions are on the news commenting on drugs, when pharmacists understand this topic better than anyone.”
As a professional pharmacist writing a blog, he says, he can make informed comment on newsworthy issues.
But he recognises there are certain issues that may be too sensitive to blog about under your real identity.
“Unlike America, in Australia, we’ve got just the one script insurer, Medicare — who seems to reject scripts for seemingly inane reasons — so if you’re criticising them, you might as well put your hand up saying, ‘please come and investigate and give me a hard time’.”
Criticising hospitals or individual drug companies could also have job-impacting repercussions, he admits. But Robbo believes that by blogging under his own name, he’s backing his own claims that pharmacy should play a bigger role in primary health outside the dispensary and he can also speak out about issues around medications and pharmaceutical care.
“Blogging under my real name means what I’m saying can be verified. I write about a bit of everything really, from car racing in Alice Springs to indigenous health to everything in between, and sometimes I throw in something of interest about life in remote health, to give people who might want to work out here a bit of an idea.”
He believes that pharmacists in Australia spend too much time talking among themselves rather than letting the rest of the population know what they do.
In other social media, Robbo uses LinkedIn and Facebook — “there’s a lot more Australian pharmacists in Facebook than there are on Twitter,” — but finds blogging the most effective platform.
“It’s also been good in terms of reducing the isolation. You can have a conversation at any time. I can respond to a few messages in the middle of the night and other people can join in, so it’s a conversation that can cross many people over time.”
“The phrase ‘social network’ sometimes has a really negative connotation,” says Laurel Papworth, a Sydney-based business consultant regularly engaged by companies all over the world to advise on implementing Web 2.0 technologies.
“We used to call them virtual communities or online communities but quite often when I’m talking to companies, I use the word ‘customer communities’ — because once they understand that’s where their customer is, then it makes it a lot easier to talk about working with them and not banning access,” she adds.
She believes that while there are plenty of pharmacists interacting on the web, they tend to stay within closed communities — or they don’t identify their profession.
“There are always heaps of pharmacists on medical forums,” she says.
She identifies several types of social media bloggers in industries. First are the ‘social media marketing’ bloggers – “Everything is sprinkled in gold-dust and is positive, vibrant and all about sales.” Then there are what she calls the ‘deep-throat’ bloggers – who make strong critical comments and leak information. And finally, professional information providers, who aren’t anonymous but reveal a lot of information freely.
Papworth agrees with Robbo — Australian pharmacists are behind the eight-ball.
“It’s worth looking at what is going on in other countries,” she says.
For example, in Singapore, some pharmacies offer remote consultation about drug use with the in-house pharmacist using web-cam and Skype technologies.
“It’s all about connecting with your communities — not just getting out from behind the dispensary counter but also getting out to where people are communicating, which is increasingly on the web.”
Dr David More has produced the Australian Health Information Technology blog for more than four years, commenting and criticising e-health policy.
“It’s fair to say that these days, I’m mainly a troublemaker,” he says.
Hundreds of people read his blog each day — many are senior health policy-makers, he adds — and he’ll often get a dozen comments on a post before lunchtime.
A former anaesthetist who headed the Accident and Emergency Department at Royal North Shore Hospital, More is now a semi-retired e-health consultant; just as well, he jokes, because he’s annoyed so many people in government that he is rarely offered work these days.
“The main reason that I can get away with being outspoken is that no-one can threaten me. I have no commercial interests, so I’m free to say what I think.”
More says he wouldn’t be surprised if commercial pressures are dissuading professional pharmacists from commenting on controversial topics — (though he also suggests that finding the time to write regularly can be a struggle.)
The real live pharmacy
Shayne Power is an employee pharmacist at the Castletown Chemist in Esperance, WA, who has been regularly blogging health information for customers since 2004.
“I don’t get much feedback,” he admits. “I do it mostly because I take a personal interest in blogging.”
Power writes some blog posts from scratch, while others are republished PSA ‘Pharmacy Self Care’ information.
But recent posts on swine flu received comments from local residents — and he believes it’s great to have the framework there to communicate important information to customers when it’s needed.
Dr Ian Larson, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Pharmacy at Monash University, says that while the incoming generation of pharmacy students is highly computer-literate, the social kinds of virtual worlds are ‘not their thing.’
Larson is part of a teaching team using the web-based virtual world ‘Second Life’ to run a critical series of practical training sessions on tablet manufacture in a virtual laboratory outfitted with equipment that mimics up-to-the-minute real-world technology.
He agrees that pharmacists have been slow to adopt social media in their workplaces — but points out that in this case, the virtual world reflects real life.
“When it comes to medicines, pharmacists are far more qualified to talk about the actual effect of medicines on a body than doctors; yet when issues are raised about drug policy, you’ll hear comments from the head of the AMA or other doctors, when it should be the pharmacists taking the lead in community debate,” he says.
“We’d like to encourage pharmacists to be more active in these kinds of community debates — perhaps it needs to start with blogging.”
Where’s the evidence?
One anonymous Australian blogger is a pharmacist now working in health informatics who posts under the assumed name Diego Luego. His blog is called Evidence Based Only and it’s highly critical of many of the products typically found on pharmacy shelves.
“Ear candles — what sort of criminal nonsense is that?! No pharmacist could recommend anything like this.”
He says that his blogs are often sparked by irritation with ‘the way things are’ in Australia’s pharmacy hierarchy.
Like Robbo, he believes that the industry’s professional bodies need to speak out more about consumer drug issues rather than focussing on the business side of pharmacy.
“There’s a real disconnect in pharmacy, we don’t get paid for advice, we only get paid for selling products, it’s not an ideal model for primary health care,” he says.
Luego says that it’s not possible for him to blog under his real name as he is now working for a reasonably large organisation — and his comments are very much his personal opinion.
Pharmacist Neil Johnson runs a blog called i2P (information to pharmacists) which publishes articles written by a variety of Australian pharmacists.
He believes the nature of pharmacy doesn’t leave much time for blogging.
“People are more likely to comment on a pharmacy bulletin board, they pick up a thread and follow it through — because really you’re talking about a maximum of a three minute time span to make a comment.”
Johnson, who is now semi-retired, used to run a management consultant practice, and is a former contributor to Pharmacy News. He set up i2P more than a decade ago so that he could comment on various issues in the profession.
“It very quickly became apparent that when you were commenting on things about pharmacy, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia became one of the prime targets, so they don’t like me very much.”
Johnson says he’s had more than 30 pharmacists write various pieces for the blog over the years and he only screens for libel, spelling and grammar.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of AusPharm over the years because it’s a bit too careful not to upset the Pharmacy Guild and they don’t publish everything that is sent in,” he says.
“Even though we might have two or three pieces violently opposed to each other at the same time, we just let the freedom of thought run through.”
The anonymous blogger
Part-time Australian pharmacist and now medical student ‘Henry’ was inspired by reading other pharmacy blogs from the US (such as The Angry Pharmacist and Drug Monkey), to start his own blog, titled Degranulated, early last year.
“They inspired me to get my creative hat on and get into blogging,” he says, adding that while he enjoyed the cynical wit of these bloggers, he didn’t think he was angry enough to do the same thing.
“I really enjoy my pharmacy work, I like the chance to help people, and perhaps that’s partly because in 18 months, when I graduate from medicine, I won’t be a pharmacist any more,” he says.
His blog has a different aim to more sarcastic fellow-bloggers.
“I’m trying to demystify that weird profession that pharmacists have. They’re not the doctor, not the patient, not the Government — but stuck in the middle between the three,” he says.
As a locum pharmacist, Henry says he has the advantage of independence from any commercial pressure that employer pharmacists often face — but still keeps his anonymity to avoid embarrassing his employers.
“On the internet, pharmacy gets a bad rap because all you see is the warehouse pharmacies — or the spam trying to sell you Viagra or Xanax or whatever, so I think it’s nice to put the more human face of a real community pharmacist out there,” he says.
Henry says it’s a shame that the pharmacist bloggers with the widest exposure are cynical and jaded.
“It just shows what working in a dispensary for 35 years without doing much else can do to you!”
He’d like to see more blogs from the many optimistic young pharmacists he meets, who really enjoy their work, he says.
“It would be great to get more sensible information out there on drug uses and interactions, from people who answer questions about this stuff all the time.”
After a few months, Degranulated was approved by a group called Health Care Blogger Code of Ethics, giving the blog more credibility. He believes that, as blogging becomes more mainstream, it’s important to establish credibility – and that community pharmacists need to feel confident in speaking out about issues in which they have expertise.
He has used his own blog to state his opinion that over-the-counter analgesics containing codeine are heavily promoted by certain pharma companies, despite known problems with overuse and addiction.
“I don’t say anything on my blog that I wouldn’t say to a patient in a consult — and you need to be frank and honest. One of my more popular posts is about Nurofen Plus, which I have pretty strong opinions about. I realise that coming out publicly making those statements could put commercial pressure on my employer, so in respect for them, I stay relatively anonymous.”
He says he’s surprised how many people still respond to his year-old blog post about Nurofen Plus — many of them consumers who comment about their experience with codeine addiction, and believes pharmacists can really make a difference to consumers by making informed commentary about any concerns they have about the products on their shelves.
Henry also uses Twitter, but says that the immediacy of the medium can be a problem as it’s easy not to think things through before posting.
He believes that a major problem with blogs and Twitter is that it’s difficult to trust the quality of the information and suggests that the Pharmacy Guild and the PSA should run Twitter accounts.
But overall, says Henry, pharmacists are way behind many other professions in their adoption of Web 2.0.
However, he expects that it won’t be long before there are more pharmacists blogging and speaking out.
“As with many things in pharmacy, there’s a bit of cautious optimism; but as social media becomes increasingly acceptable, people in pharmacy are starting to follow suit and mix their professional and private lives.”
Top pharmacy bloggers
Bite the Dust www.bitethedust.com.au
Subtitled “A view of pharmacy and health from a very remote pharmacist,” Andrew ‘Robbo’ Roberts’ blog is a wonderful mix of personal tales about working in the remote Gibson Desert and policy commentary on pharmacy and health bureaucracies. Robbo is also on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bitethedust
Australian Health Information Technology www.aushealthit.blogspot.com
Written by e-health consultant Dr David More.
Medical blog, written by health journalist Melissa Sweet, includes regular pieces on pharmacy topics making the news.
Rick Samimi’s Pharmacy Blog http://ricksamimi-pharmacy.blogspot.com/
Discussion and analysis of retail pharmacy issues in Australia from Sydney pharmacist Rick Samimi, partner in the People’s Choice Pharmacy of the Year for 2009, the YouSave Chemist Macquarie Centre in North Ryde, NSW.
Castletown Chemist www.castletownchemist.com
Written by employee pharmacist Shayne Power from a pharmacy in Esperance, WA, mostly republishing PSA ‘Pharmacy Self Care’ information.
Evidence Based Only www.evidencebasedonly.blogspot.com
Written by an Australian pharmacist working in health informatics, this blog is a pharmacy-based news commentary.
Degranulated (Captain Atopic) www.captainatopic.com
Henry is a medical student who works part-time as a pharmacist and writes wry commentary about both worlds.
Some Pharmacy Guy www.somepharmacyguy.blogspot.com
An irreverent blog by an anonymous pharmacist, who responded to an email enquiry by advising that the blog is currently on hold. Still, plenty of interesting stuff in the archives.
Science-based Pharmacy www.sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com
Edited by Scott Gavura, a community pharmacist in Ontario, Canada, this blog takes a thorough and critical look at a range of products sold in pharmacies. The author aligns strongly with Skeptics groups.
Flavio Guzmán teaches pharmacology at the University of Mendoza, Argentina and produces this purely educational site with unbiased drug information.
US journalist Ed Silverman’s popular pharmacy industry blog closed in January this year, but the news side of the site continues.
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine and Pharma www.brodyhooked.blogspot.com
US Professor, MD and medical ethicist Howard Brody regularly posts commentary on the ethics of a variety of issues within pharmacy.
The Angry Pharmacist www.theangrypharmacist.com
A Californian community pharmacist posts scathing and rudely funny commentary on work-related frustrations. Similar sites include Your Pharmacist Might Hate You: www.drugmonkey.blogspot.com
Social networking groups in pharmacy
Linked In www.linkedin.com/groups
Association of People Working Within Pharmacy (Australian group)
Australian Pharmacists group More than 1000 members; popular topics include pharmacist salaries and PGA issues.
Australian Pharmacy Assistants group Sponsored by Contact magazine. A place to share stories, photos, ideas and questions.
The Disgruntled Pharmacy Students: The Anti-Weigh-Balance Group. Around 130 members in Australia, the UK and US.
Plus several groups for staff at various Australian pharmacy franchises and university pharmacy student groups.
Breaking news and interesting tidbits from the editorial team at Pharmacy News.