Ep 16 - How to Utilize Social Media in Pharmacy Informatics with John Poikonen

Jul 29, 2014 12:00:00 AM · by David Kushan

In continuing to explore social media and its significance to health IT, this month we spoke with John Poikonen Adjuct Professor at Health Informatics and Management, University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

John partners with another informaticist in managing the blog RXInformatics.com. His content seeks to better the healthcare, pharmacy, and information technology community by providing an online presence for collaboration.

You can find the transcript of this interview below!

Listen to the episode here: Healthcare IS Podcasts

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David Kushan: Welcome to the interview section of the podcast today. Today we’re continuing our podcast interview series on how social media is being used out in the market place in the medical world and specifically in pharmacy. Today our guest has a lot of experience and exposure to that area. Our guest today is John Poikonen. John is on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s in the Department of Health Informatics and Management. Prior to that he was the Director of Clinical Informatics for seven years at UMASS Memorial. John has also been a member of the ASHP Executive Committee sections specifically in Pharmacy Informatics.

John thanks so much for being here with us today.

John Poikonen: Thanks Dave and thanks for your ongoing education of pharmacy in the medical profession and all that you do in social media, blogs and twitter and every place else you seem to pop-up.

David Kushan: Well thanks for mentioning that I appreciate it. So John I know that through our discussions that we’ve had over the last year or so specifically as it relates to these topics that you’ve been heavily involved in social media tools getting out information as it relates to pharmacy informatics and even in the past year things have evolved quite a bit can you just talk a little bit and give our listeners some perspective on how you’ve used social media and what kind of an impact it’s having and where yore seeing it being utilized today.

John Poikonen: Sure I’ll take it from maybe two different perspectives, one, a professional one and maybe one from a personal one. I think there’s another dimension I’m less experienced in and that is professional presence point of view. I don’t know about pharmacy but I think there’s legitimate things that might be a separate podcast for an owner of fusion pharmacy or community pharmacy. So on a personal basis I got involved a number of years ago and I viewed it as a way to build my own personal brand. Pharmacy informatics continues to be an up and coming segment of pharmacy practice and there was a need to disseminate information in that regard. So Chad Hardy, a Pharmacy Informaticist and I started a blog called RXInformatics.com. We’ve posted 2-300 blogs to that site, specifically around pharmacy informatics and it sort of fills that void between writing a journal article which I’ve done a fair amount but I’ve done a far amount of but that’s a very arduous, time consuming, sometimes excruciating, process to get things published and going out on the side of the road and using a bull horn to broadcast things. A blog is somewhere in-between those phases to get new ideas out to a wider audience. We did that for a number of years and I think that it was a great experience.

David Kushan: I’ve been to your site quite a bit going back a couple of years I think it was one of the first sites where I could find consistent updated information specifically around pharmacy informatics topics, pharmacy IT topics. It’s always been very useful tool that I have used. I know in your career that you have transitioned from being a director of clinical informatics recently into a faculty role.

What are some of the things that are evolving in your role that maybe ten years a go there weren’t social media tools out there but you’re using to be social media today?

John Poikonen: Sure. So you know, what I think ten years ago… so I’ve been a pharmacist for probably more years than I would like to admit… [laughs] but in the range of thirty-four I think, the avenue that I had taken in the past was really through professional organizations not only to network, well to primarily to network with individuals but also to engage in social media in a different context. In publishing newsletters and being that I was president of a state society and so you got to interact and pursue your passions of communicating pharmacy informatics items through that method. So with the dawn of social media, it gives the opportunity for lots of people to use the social media aspects to reach a much wider audience and so I think consequently what has occurred is further and further segmentation on interests. I don’t know a newsletter on pharmacy informatics would have garnered a wide audience ten or twelve years ago. I think we were upper in a thousand from a website point of view it wasn’t huge but from a pharmacy informatics point of view we were getting a thousand hits a week and I thought that was pretty good to get the word out.

Just a brief point about RXInformatics.com, Chad Hardy and I have sort of taken a little sabbatical, we probably should have posted this but part of the evolution of particularly blogging, there’s a burn out factor so I’m not sure we ran out of ideas but we ran out of energy to continually post on a regular basis. So we haven’t posted in a while and if there’s anyone out there who would be interested in doing some guest posts we would be more than happy to entertain that. We don’t make money on the site, it was more a labor of love. So anyway, that’s just a general evolution of I think blogging and social media in general. It has it’s segments of great inspiration followed by periods of what do I do now?

David Kushan: Absolutely. It can be hard to keep that up, I mean we have a team here that puts information puts information online on a consistent basis but you certainly have to find ways to keep that going and you know just to give the listeners some reference a thousand hits a week is substantial when you consider the size of a niche out there and I think that’s really what’s important. These sites evolving to have a very clear audience. There are bigger sites bit many different people drawing to a particular site for information but the way you keep getting people back and form a community is to be targeted in the information you’re providing to a specific audience.

John Poikonen: Yeah, I think that’s a key for anybody utilizing social media. Not to overwhelm people but continually tweet a blog post on your passion and eventually that passion comes through and becomes contagious.  I know that comes through when I follow people and that’s pretty much been my strategy to date. There are lots of people who will charge you a fair amount of money on a formalized social media strategy for your personal branding and your personal business. I think my message is be genuine and be genuine to you and people will recognize that over time.

David Kushan: I you use twitter. Quite a bit and I think it’s probably in the professional world a tool that hasn’t been utilized to its capacity. I can recall a few years ago wondering why I would use something like this and especially I think when you think about following friends and such it might be from a generational stand point but there’s not a lot that I personally tweet under a hundred and sixty characters that friends follow me and care to read or what have you. But what I noticed over time though is that with social media outlets they tend to tweet their articles with hashtags and what I found is that over time I began to do searches with a hashtag and a key word and it almost for me has become a source of getting information. You can go to Google and Google a keyword but I just find from a twitter perspective, it’s brought to me a lot more concise and dated information.

As a user of twitter how have you seen it used out there in a way that has helped you from a professional standpoint?   

John Poikonen: So I use Twitter a fair amount and I’ll carve out a couple times a day or at least once a day. At this point I use it as a primary news source for informatics topics but also for general news sources. I have a list of general news sources I have a list of medical informaticst I have a list of pharmacy informaticist and so I think it’s just a fabulous way to gain information. I have a clinical list so I follow some terrific people in the clinical space around infectious disease and hyperlipidemia and things I’m interested in. So I feel it has grown into a primary news source. I had a Twitter epiphany around news 3-4 years ago. There was a train accident in Washington DC and I happened to be in DC at the time, and happened to see a Twitter stream about it and so got quite involved in looking at all the people who are involved in the train crash. Got to my hotel that night and watched the news and was woefully disappointed in the news watching experience versus being absolutely captivating review the citizen journalism of people involved in the crash as it happened. It was a spectacular experience on the different mediums. Tweeting on pharmacy informatics isn’t as dramatic as that but I think getting information from people who are doing things in your interest is a really compelling way to gain insight and information.

For example this morning we had a twitter conversation with Jeff Cain from the University of Kentucky. He tweeted an article around professionalism in tweeting that I thought was very timely. We had a little discussion today in preparation for this.

David Kushan: Absolutely. I saw that and I was going to say it really opens the doors and allows people to get an opinion from untraditional sources and you still have to  be able to sort through what you think is relevant or not relevant. It really changes the game when you have access to so many people like that, that you can follow and have opinions out there.

John Poikonen: Yeah there’s a rap out there against Twitter not being accurate and I think you do have to put some kind of filter on it. But as you indicated the tweeting articles that people are reading is a primary sources of knowledge gathering for me.

David Kushan: Being in faculty right now how has training been affected when you’re using that in your setting day to day?

John Poikonen: Sure, so one of the things I’ve been doing since September is sharing with my student’s information not through twitter or Facebook but with Evernote. Evernote is a really interesting product I don’t know what I did before Evernote to be honest about gathering and storing. With my students I have a public Evernote page where I post assignments, information, updates, articles I’m considering, articles they are assigned, so they get sort of an idea of where I’m going in the course and concurrently getting up-to-date information on health systems and informatics. It has worked pretty well you don’t get the in depth stats as you do from an Internet site but our students have really appreciated it. It’s sort of a transparency in teaching, which is one way to look at it. It’s worked really, really, well.

David Kushan: Well it’s interesting. Obviously were just having a conversation here and I ask a question not really knowing where you’re going to be headed with it just because I want to get your opinion on things but I’ll add that everybody in our company Healthcare IS, we all have Evernote accounts and shared files. I’m probably creating 3-4 new notes a day minimum just on everyday thoughts to articles and that sort of thing. The search capability is fantastic. So if anybody has heard of it, if not tried it, I know there’s some free trials. I’m just bringing it up as a tool that worked for us as well. So that’s very interesting that you just happened to say that because we use that everyday here.

John Poikonen: On RXInformatics.com we have a half a dozen posts called your peripheral brain. Where we talk about Evernote in some other tools the Boston based company Spring Pad that is a competitor with a little different spin on things. I wouldn’t call them social media but there are a lot of collaborative environments to be able to work together and to make it public. I’m happy to share stuff that I’m doing in my course. It’s not proprietary. It is knowledge sharing across a spectrum.

David Kushan: Yeah, absolutely that’s great to bring the awareness there because these things tend to intertwine with each other the lines are a little blurry on collaborative, social media, part of social media is to become more collaborative so you bring up a great point.

Tell me, as we wrap up do you have any final thoughts on things that you are using or see happening out there that might get the listeners the ability to bring some awareness on some new trends that are happening that you’re seeing?

John Poikonen: I guess I want to give my perspective on Facebook to round out the subject. It seems to me and these are not original quotes but things I’ve come across Facebook is about friends, but Twitter is more about colleagues and work these are general statements. Facebook seems to me it’s about the past but clearly to me anyway Twitter and blogs are about the future so from those comments you might surmise I don’t use Facebook very often if at all anymore partly because of the privacy, partly because I just don’t think it’s a very professional medium.

Generally you use Facebook for your personal life and use these other mediums for your professional life and I think that might be a good general guide for folks.

Oh, by the way, when I was at McKesson we used Yammer, which is basically an internal Twitter. Fantastic tool. It’s behind closed walls but it’s basically Twitter for the enterprise and I think you’re going to start seeing yammer in more and more organizations. It’s a great communication tool.

So my twitter handle is @Poikonen I have a number of lists that are public I only have a few that are private but most of my public lists you can subscribe to and get the same newsfeeds on all of this information.


I also use Google Plus a little bit less. I really wish Google+ would catch on faster I like the user interface I think that’s a slow burn and I’m hoping that Google keeps interest because I love the platform of Goolge+ it’s just the catch 22 is that not enough people are using it as a platform. Also I follow a number of influential people there as well.

David Kushan: For anybody listening who are thinking about Twitter, it’s a great place to start. Follow people who you know or respect and follow their lists. That’s a very easy place to start getting a stream of information instead of having to go one by one.

John Poikonen: It’s not very intuitive of how you do that but, it’s in there and you can follow other peoples lists. It works pretty well.

Healthcare IS Podcast


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