How much information can one gain from 140 characters or less?  During the forward thinking, experimental short course entitled “In the Era of Digital Medicine, Patients are Connected and in Control – What Does this Mean for Laboratorians?” Stephen Master, MD, PhD, Shannon Haymond, PhD, David Grenache, PhD, and patient advocate Emily Kramer-Golinkoff demonstrated how laboratory professionals share our expertise through social media.  The message behind the session was truly driven by the patient and their views of the healthcare system.

“Patients justifiably have been calling for greater empowerment,” Master noted. In many ways, as laboratory testing becomes more decentralized through direct-to-consumer testing and wellness centers, patients are more active than ever in managing their own health.  However, laboratory results are not often associated with detailed interpretative information. “The context is where we can provide insight and perspective,” Haymond said. 

Notably, many people do not realize the role the laboratory community plays in the total testing process. Our engagement and participation in social media elevates our professional profile,” Grenache said. The forum aimed to pull back the curtain, revealing not only those who contribute to healthcare, but also those who benefit from the services provided by clinical laboratorians.

The interactive session uniquely engaged both on-site attendees as well as followers interacting remotely through Twitter. The session used the #DigitalLabMed hashtag, with questions and discussion points collated and fielded by a Twitter moderator to spark interactions around patient-driven healthcare and emerging technologies. 

Patient advocate Kramer-Golinkoff (@emilykg1, @EmilysEntourage), a social media expert and a “Precision Medicine Champion of Change” for President Obama’s precision medicine initiative, provided a perspective on how the laboratory community can fit into the digital landscape. In her moving patient account, Kramer-Golinkoff earnestly conveyed her desire to “be a connector and bring people together” to combat cystic fibrosis. Social media and a thriving online community have amplified her message. The power of the digital network “rightly places the patient as a critical member of the team, as well as a conduit to the larger patient community, and the world.”

“These precision medicine-driven initiatives include patients as advisors,” Haymond noted.  Grenache built upon this idea, emphasizing that, “the enormous amount of patient data generated can improve healthcare across the spectrum.”

In fact, data demonstrate that more than 60% of millennials with a smartphone use it to research a health condition. Mobile devices also drive the quantified self movement. “If you can measure it, you can change it,” Grenache commented.  Haymond noted that the public is already conversing about these topics through social media (#patientengagement).

All speakers hope that this experimental session becomes a trend.  While this is new ground for the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting, we must be adaptable to the fluidity between social media platforms and digital technology. As Haymond said, “Driving forward is central to our field.”

But what about the quality of information available to patients on social media? “There are groups providing well-vetted information,” Haymond said. “Our participation in the conversation helps establish our community as leaders and trusted resources for the public. Our role in social media should be no different than our traditional role as laboratory professionals.”

With an exciting speaker lineup well versed in the interplay between social media and digital medicine, this session highlighted the interactive nature of the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting. As Grenache pointed out, this may all be summed up as #awesome.