Roughly two years ago I had the good fortune of meeting a group of like-minded clinicians and academics. The interaction I have had with them has been incredibly beneficial to both my clinical and professional practice. However, we are scattered across Australia and New Zealand, and therefore we rarely meet in person and essentially only connect with each other online. I subsequently learned that the term for our group is a Virtual Community of Practice (vCoP). vCoP are becoming increasingly common and often arise from clinician connections through websites and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. vCoP can have a range of different purposes, including sharing of research or new clinical ideas, creating a platform for inter-professional collaboration, operating as an educational resource, working as a mechanism for advocacy, and providing a means to connect clinicians with the broader community.
The vCoP that I am part of is called Palliverse. Palliverse is a vCoP with a distinct, shared focus on issues relevant to palliative care. While it was initially aimed at an Australasian audience, it has developed global online reach. Its fundamental aim is to bring together people and ideas, engaging a diverse and geographically dispersed audience of clinicians and the broader community in collaborative discussion and exchange of information specific to palliative care. Palliverse operates through multiple platforms including the palliverse.com Wordpress website, Twitter (@palliverse), and Facebook. Palliverse has also recently partnered with Palliative Care Australia to launch the #pallanz tweetchat, providing a platform for clinicians and community members in this region to discuss living, dying, and palliative care. However, Palliverse is far from the only palliative care-focused vCoP. Internationally, there are a number of other vCoP focused on palliative care, including #hpm and #hpmglobal, and Pallimed, which is based primarily in the UK and USA (1).
The Palliverse vCoP
vCoP are not specific to palliative care. Actually, palliative care vCoP are somewhat late clinical arrivals to a thriving scene and there are a number of well-established communities based in Australasia. Some groups target specific areas of clinical practice, like the emergency medicine and critical care-focused Life in the Fast Lane. Others address particular audiences such as the med student-focused IV line. Of particular interest may also be a number of specific GP-focused vCoP. GP Down Under (GPDU) is a closed Facebook group where clinicians can apply for membership through contacting the group. Members use the site to connect with colleagues, to share information, and to ask for advice. FOAM4GP is a website and blog that provides clinician with Free Online Access Medical (FOAM) education resources provided by urban and rural Australian GPs. Access to FOAM resources with a GP focus can also be found through the twitter by searching #FOAM4GP.
For some of you reading this your response may be, “Well, how do I start?” The first step is to consider setting up a social media account for Twitter or Facebook to connect with some of these resources and people. You may find this article useful to help get you started with Twitter if you haven’t used it before. The links cited in this article represent just a start in exploring the growing number of local vCoP options. If you would like to find out what other clinicians are doing in this space, the blog doctorsbag.net produces a great list of the best GP bloggers in Australia which can also help in connecting with like-minded individuals and resources.
As a clinician, my experience with social media and vCoP has been a very positive one. Having said that, feeling comfortable using these platforms as a work tool can take a little time. The online space is not risk free, and we must attend to our commitments to our own, and our patients’, privacy and confidentiality. Many employers also have rules around employee use of social media which are also important to be aware of. In saying this, I think it is important to remember that vCoP and social media represent opportunities, not commitments. They allow flexible engagement to the degree that the clinician feels is helpful, appropriate, and importantly, has time for. Any clinicians out there who would like to get more connected to current research, education, or the broader community of clinicians, I would encourage you to start exploring vCoP. You may find that they have a lot to offer you.
1) Whitburn T, Walshe C, Sleeman K. International palliative care journal club on twitter: experience so far. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care. 2015;5(1):120.
Dr Michael Chapman is a palliative medicine specialist at Calvary Bruce Private Hospital and is a co-founder and editor of Palliverse.
You can connect with him on Twitter at @mchapmanonline.