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Retrospect of Social Media and Networks in Medicine: PRSA 2008 Health Academy Conference

It was a pleasure to attend the recent PRSA Health Academy meeting in Chicago, the first time the Academy has held its annual get together outside of Washington, D.C. in 19 years, but it was well worth the wait and a terrific “social” gathering. The over-arching theme was “Boomers, Xers and Nexters — Communicating in a Cross-Generational/Cross-Cultural Landscape,” but the hottest topic of all was social media. Speakers like Ed Schipul talked about how we as health care communicators can ethically penetrate Internet-based communities, and he also explained to us neophytes how the newest social media application “Twitter” works. Dmitry Kruglyak, CEO of Trusted.MD, and one of the top experts on FaceBook, explained how Susan G. Komen used a “Pink Ribbon Application” to engage more than three million FaceBook members in supporting a cure for breast cancer.

I joined my longtime Web and animation collaborator Sten McKenzie for a discussion called “The Evolving Face(book) of Social Media: From MySpace to Second Life, Avatars and Social Networks in Medicine.”  The key word is “evolving.” We provided examples of how health care organizations like the Arthritis Foundation are using YouTube to aggregate their educational and fund-raising videos, and Pepsi’s cutting-edge marketing outreach to the deaf community through its Super Bowl ad and viral video. Unique health care applications on MySpace include the American Osteopathic Association’s member site and Johnson and Johnson’s sponsorship of an eye health educational campaign featuring U.S. Olympic soccer star Heather O’Reilly.

In our talk, I think attendees were most impressed by our guided tour of Second Life, with such notable sites as the Boomer Esiason Foundation’s Cystic Fibrosis University and the three-dimensional version of that Sten and his team are building for the Alliance for Consumer Education. While Second Life has its flaws, the promise and potential of virtual world education is enormous. Indeed, the future of health education may indeed rely heavily on the concept of “serious gaming.” That is, creating three-dimensional virtual learning environments, not unlike today’s high-end video games, to entertain, educate and engage Gen Y, as well as Gen X and anyone else playing catch up!

Ben Garrett, PRSA Health Academy board member and co-chair of the 2009 Health Academy meeting (May 13-15, 2009), is an award-winning health producer with more than 28 years of experience in broadcast public relations, and an innovator in health care communications on the Web. Garrett is currently the executive producer of On the Scene Productions.

Sten McKinzie is an award-winning multimedia designer with over 15 year’s experience in graphics, animation and online media. He has served as president of Erickson Multimedia Studios, Inc., or EM Studios, since 2003 and has directed projects for the biggest names and associations in the medical field.

Garrett and McKinzie co-presented at the PRSA 2008 Health Academy’s 2008 Conference (April 2-4, 2008), Health Care Communications Strategy: Boomers, Xers, and Nexters. Visit the PRSA Health Academy Section Web site at to learn more about Health Academy news and upcoming events.

Join Garrett for his teleseminar, co-presented with Dmitriy Kruglyak, titled Harnessing Rich Media and Social Distribution, on June 11 at 3 p.m. EDT!

About the author

Ben Garrett


  • Twitter may not have reached critical mass yet, but its users still represent an important and influential demographic. But other social media sites have become real mass media. Right now, MySpace and FaceBook are neck and neck with 125 million registered users a piece, and YouTube has nearly 80 million unique visitors a month. Social media is increasingly relevant because its where the eyeballs are. In the UK, 75% of all web traffic is through social media portals and I’m not sure the USA is very far behind…

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