By Amy Rogers, MD, Coffee Break Medical Marketing

Doctor explaining information to patient

Imagine if the only outlet to enjoy fine art was a bin of cardboard-backed posters in a gift shop at the mall. The Picassos are mixed in with photos of bike-riding cats and Van Halen album covers.

This presents a few problems. First, finding a piece of fine art becomes a pretty time consuming task because of everything you have to dig through in your pursuit. Second, there is no context to the art from the life of the artist or his body of work. Third, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

If you’ve ever searched the Internet for health information, you know it can be a lot like looking for fine art in a poster shop. And most people, no matter how smart they are, just don’t have the time to sort through all the information and separate the solid evidence from the misinformation or the anecdotes from the outright fraud.

This is why one of the most important tasks of the modern physician is that of medical content curator. As NYU Professor Carl Shirky explains, “Curation comes up when search stops working.”

So what exactly is a medical content curator? Well, often people think of Pinterest when it comes to online content curation. Users simply pin an image and link to someone else’s work. But Pinterest and similar platforms are just one step above the poster shop in the mall. When we talk about medical content curation we’re talking about a fine museum.

And that’s exactly how medical content curation should proceed – as if you are amassing a collection of important work for your audience to learn from. Think about these steps as you build this collection

Find

An art curator seeks out important works of art for her museum. Do the same with medical information.

  • Consider what your audience wants to know. What questions do they ask you over and over again? Find good information that addresses these questions.
  • Consider what you want them to know. What are the topics that will improve their health but they don’t even know to ask about? Track down great resources to help make these points.
  • Consider what the media will tell them. What is the media bombarding them with? Look for solid content that goes beyond the sensationalized headline.

Of course you want to use reputable peer-reviewed journals, but popular publications and websites are good sources of content if you follow the next step.

Contextualize

Art curators think carefully about the context of any work of art they share. They obsess over the type of work that surrounds it. They offer information about the life of the artist and the history of the time period he created the work. They want the viewer to have the best information available to fully appreciate the art.

Medical content is similar. It is a rare piece of medical research that stands alone. It’s up to the curator to present new research in the proper context so the audience doesn’t misunderstand.

  • Is there a larger body of research on a topic that sheds light on the meaning of this information?
  • Were the research methods less than robust? Or was it the first well-designed research on the topic?
  • Are the headlines sensationalized?
  • How should this information change health behaviors?

Share

Once the curator determines the right context for the art, she shares it. But she doesn’t just slap it up on the wall and walk away. She obsesses over details like lighting and the size of the room. She wants the environment to give the viewer the best opportunity to absorb the art.

The medical content curator should do the same thing.

  • What medium will your audience respond best to? A blog post? A podcast or video? An infographic?
  • What level of literacy does your audience have? If you are sharing with a general audience you must target a lower level than an audience with specific education in your field.
  • Have you considered the nuts and bolts of your presentation? Things like white space, subheadings, bullet points, and images can help make the content easier to digest and understand for the user.

Great content curation offers many benefits for both you and your audience. For you, the efforts pay off by establishing you as an authority—a likeable expert—in your field. You become known as the provider of consistent, reliable information. You demonstrate that you keep up with the latest information in your field. And you know you are providing at least one source of solid, evidence-based medical information online.

For your audience, they are able to save time by using you as a reliable resource for their health information. They know they are getting the real story to help make their healthcare decisions. And they have access to you even when they don’t have an appointment.

In the end, the changing world of the Internet can leave patients wondering where to turn and what to believe. In his article on the five laws of the curation economy, Steven Rosenbaum argues in his first law, “People don’t want more content, they want less. We’re overwhelmed in raw, unfiltered, context-free data.”

Physicians have a responsibility to help patients filter that information and organize it based on the best available evidence.