The Power of Content Curation for Healthcare Communities

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant” – Mitchell Kapor

Information is power and patients are becoming more empowered through increasing access to medical information online. However, one of the biggest challenges we face is trying to filter the vast repository of online content to find trustworthy content. As cancer research advocate and health blogger, Debra Madden (@AdvocateDebM), points out, “for better or worse, information is much more accessible today than it was in the late 1980s thanks to the Internet. But a major challenge now is separating the wheat from the chaff, being able to identify the many resources on the Internet that are not reliable and recognize those that are reputable sources of consistently high-quality medical and health information.”

Instead of more information what we really need is more accessible, understandable and credible information on which to base our healthcare decision-making. One solution is to curate reliable, up-to-date medical information in a format that is easy for patients to access, digest, and understand. Content curation is defined as the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest.  While this definition sounds simple, there’s a world of difference between simply gathering information and being an effective curator. A good curator knows how to find, aggregate, and synthesize reliable information, putting it into context for their communities and sharing it in a format that is easy to access and understand. Beth Kanter, a specialist in social media communication for non-profit organizations, characterizes a content curator as someone “who offers high value to anyone looking for quality content because finding that information (and making sense of it) requires more and more time, attention and focus.”

Health science blogger, Lisa DeFerrari (@after20yrs), devotes time on her blog to sharing the latest research on breast cancer. “A lot of the inspiration for what I do on my blog, and a lot of what I’m learning too, comes from the people I meet in my advocacy work and online”, she says. “Many of us have an interest in knowing what’s going on in cancer research and understanding what kind of progress we’re making against this disease. I believe that being up to date about the major developments in research empowers us in taking care of our own and our loved ones’ health.” Lisa describes the activity as one in which she shares her own learning process with readers, “I felt that this was an area where I could contribute given my own experience with breast cancer and my advocacy work as well as my interest in research. I look for updates that seem interesting and relevant from a patient perspective and share what I see as the basic, need to know, details for my readers.”

Mayo Clinic-trained women’s heart health activist and heart attack survivor, Carolyn Thomas (@HeartSisters) was once described by cardiology conference organizers as a ‘knowledge translator’. “I love that job description,” she says, “I like trying to make sense of complex medical gobbledygook. There actually is a social science readability rating scale called “SMOG: a Simple Measure of GobbledyGook!” – one that most medical journals would fail, by the way.”

The ability to curate trusted content is a key skill for patient advocates. Hereditary cancer advocate, Amy Byer Shainman (@BRCAresponder), believes “patient advocates not only have a responsibility to curate trusted content but that it is an imperative if you are even going to be calling yourself a patient advocate.” Not only is curation of value to the health community, but it also benefits the curator by enhancing their credibility and leadership among their peers. Amy, Carolyn, Lisa, and Debra are all leaders in this field. In interviewing each of them this month, I found they were eager to share their tips and recommendations on developing the skill of content curation. Listed below you will find a summary of their recommendations, alongside my own tips for effective content curation.

Eight Steps to Effective Content Curation

1.) Consider the source

Curate content from reliable and credible sources only. This is the most important first step in curating trustworthy content. Debra’s first step is to go directly to the small library of oncology texts she has built over the years (e.g., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer Principles & Practices of Oncology, which is considered by many to be the definitive oncology reference). “However”, she says, “even if these texts weren’t available to me, there are multiple exceptional online resources that are easily accessible. These sites are available to anyone with access to an Internet connection, are typically free without subscription costs, and provide links to additional helpful sources of information and references on related topics.”

Debra recommends conducting online searches of medical journals published by professional cancer associations, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). She advises whenever possible, for research purposes, it’s best to obtain access to full-text journal articles versus solely the abstracts. Debra also recommends conducting an online PubMed search. PubMed comprises greater than 26 million biomedical literature citations from MedLine, which is the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s bibliographic database. “PubMed provides free access to abstracts within Medline as well as links to full-text articles, importantly, in some cases, access to the full-text journal articles is also provided for free. Unfortunately, in other instances, although full journal articles can be accessed by linking from the abstract in PubMed, the publishers charge a fee for obtaining the full text, which can become extremely pricey.” Debra’s tip in such cases is to conduct a Google search on “full text medical journal articles free,” which will return sites that provide links to the increasing number of journals that provide free online full-text articles.

Her final recommendation is to conduct a Medscape search. “After a free, one-time, and simple registration process, Medscape provides access to professional, original medical content that includes comprehensive review articles, patient education articles, journal commentaries, expert columns, and medical news”, she says. “In addition, Medscape enables users to select their preferred specialty which then delivers a personalized site with topics of most interest.”

Amy recommends finding a go-to source for credible information. “My go to patient advocate for the latest hereditary cancer/BRCA research is Lisa M. Guzzardi, RN (@LguzzardiM)”, she says. “Lisa is a HBOC (Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer) patient advocate dedicated to providing up to date evidence based research for consumers at risk and also clinicians. She is on top of all the latest scientific journals and research pertaining to HBOC.”

2.) Subscribe to newsletters and alerts

Lisa told me that she relies on a number of sources that she tracks for the latest articles and reports about cancer research developments, including medical news aggregators, cancer research news subscription services and google alerts. “I scan these regularly”, she says, “looking for those stories that seem to have the most potential interest or impact from the patient perspective.”

Set up Google Alerts for the healthcare topics of interest to your community. Add Google Scholar which indexes most peer-reviewed online journals of Europe and America’s largest scholarly publishers. You can also use tools such as Flipboard and Newsle and subscribe to other health-related curators on Scoop.it a curation platform.

3.) Learn how to read behind the headlines

Every day we read headlines heralding medical breakthroughs, and it’s important to know how to discern the true reality behind the headlines. Does the news item support its claims with scientific research? If so, read through the article to find the most important findings from the study. Look for expert commentary from physicians or other qualified healthcare commentators within the article. Note if the author mentions any limitations concerning the research (again they often don’t). Most peer-reviewed articles list their research’s limitations in their conclusion, so you may need to dig deeper by reading the original published journal article. Debra cautions that “the facts are not always convenient, and those who speak out in the popular media may have an agenda or bias. Unfortunately, the reality is that when discussing health and medical research, screening, interventions, etc., many news stories tend to emphasize and often exaggerate potential benefits while minimizing or even ignoring possible harms. In addition, it’s important to recognize the different types of bias that may also impact how research is designed and implemented, how data is collected and analyzed, and/or how or whether results of such research are presented in the medical literature. Understanding potential research bias and how it may impact study results and its reporting enables advocates to critically review scientific literature, an important skill in evaluating and accurately presenting the evidence.”

4.) Cite the original source

Always cite the original source when curating content. Read Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers to learn more about how to publish citations.

5.) Provide context and add perspective

Content curation is not about collecting links or being an information pack rat; it’s about being able to summarize the key points, adding your own perspective and putting things into a context that makes sense to your community. Carolyn describes the process as “a combination of my own personal experience or opinion juxtaposed with what others before me have learned about this topic. What have researchers in the field found? What do physicians’ current treatment guidelines recommend? Or, how have other patients experienced what I’m talking about?” She points out, “I’m not a scientist, but I can now interpret a journal abstract pretty well and distil the key points in a simple, clear fashion. I never write things like “Studies suggest that…” without actually citing a credible reference for a study or two that support what I’m about to say.  And I look specifically for methodology issues (No women included in this study? Or only lab mice? – not interested!)”

6.) Publish to a content hub

You can post your curated content to a blog or you can use a content hub, as I do, such as Scoop-it. Creating a content hub is another opportunity to build a community of shared interest and amplify your content.

7.) Use the right tools

Some useful tools include Pocket, which integrates with 500+ apps for easy curation, Evernote, a cross-platform, freemium app designed for note taking, organizing, and archiving, and news aggregator app, Feedly.

8.) Tap into the power of social media

Share your curated content via your social networks and make it easy for others to share it too. Add a relevant hashtag and use a twitter scheduling tool like Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule tweets so that you can reach a global audience.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from these examples content curation is an important skill for patient advocates. Amy believes, “being well versed in the science of your own health story plus the ethical implications, philosophical implications, and emotional components of your health story is key to being a credible patient advocate.” To develop these skills, Debra recommends the scientific training and educational opportunities offered by nonprofit organizations such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC)’s Project LEAD®, the Research Advocacy Network (RAN), and the Cancer Information & Support Network (CISN); as well as conference-based educational opportunities, such as through the RAN’s Focus on Research Scholar Program, which culminates with attendance at ASCO’s Annual Meeting; the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation’s Advocate Program as a component of the Annual International San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS); and the Drug Information Association (DIA) Patient Fellowship Program.

I leave the final word to Lisa, who says that “as patient advocates we bring a different perspective to the discussion.” That perspective is an important one, and learning how to do it well is a way to add inestimable value to our communities.


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