Exploratory Exercises

Explore Your Interest in Medical Humanities

Many healthcare providers enjoy reading, viewing art works, or watching and listening to movies, plays, and musical performances. Beyond this enjoyment, however, is an underlying principle that caregivers can enhance their clinical practice skills by examining and reflecting upon humanistic themes. To help those new to this principle, two Web Inquiry Projects will introduce you to the world of medical humanities, as viewed on the Web.  Both projects are intended as guided inquiries into how current Internet trends open new resources in examining medical humanities. The projects are meant to be independent, and the learner may choose to perform just one or both. 

Project 1:  Blogs Written by Health Professionals

Increasingly, blogs with healthcare content have appeared on the Web. Although many have as their primary intent to provide medical information to the lay public, some allow physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers to share narratives regarding their practices online. Lagu, et al., writing in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in November, 2008, summarized this phenomenon. They identified such sites initially with a Google search of “medical blogs” and then identified further sites through links in their original collection of sites. 

For this activity, try to duplicate the search of Lagu, et al., and identify five medical blogs containing healthcare provider narratives. Then, answer the following questions pertaining to their content. 

  1. Do any descriptions of patients violate patient privacy?  Could a stranger identify a particular patient? Could another caregiver at the same institution identify the patient?  Could the patient identify his/herself if (s)he read the blog? To what extent is the sharing of patient stories on the Internet permissible or ethical? 
  2. How are patients or situations described? Can you identify techniques that the healthcare provider utilized to communicate or examine a patient more (or less) effectively? What can you apply from these observations to your own clinical practice? 
  3. How are pharmaceutical and medical device products depicted? Can you detect any conflicts of interest, such as participating in a conference funded by industry, or accepting small gifts from industry? Did this affect the bloggers viewpoint, and if so, how? What is your view on attending “free lunch” conferences and accepting small gifts, such as ballpoint pens, from industry representatives? Can you remain unbiased and do so? 

Project 2:  Use of Medical Humanities Websites

Websites addressing medical humanities and/or medical ethics have proliferated recently.  Many provide new content, including their own humanities journals and blogs, in addition to links to other sites and resources. Given the growth of the Internet and online education, it is inevitable that many of these sites will attempt to provide online education in the medical humanities in some fashion. 

For this activity, identify five medical humanities utilizing links you have found in the current Web site as well as in the October 2003 issue of Academic Medicine.  For each site, answer the following questions: 

  1. Did you learn about humanities on the site in a passive (i.e. reading content) or active (interacting with the material in some fashion, such as answering questions or collecting information) mode? What did you learn? Which type of online learning do you prefer? 
  2. Did the site provide (or direct you to develop) explicit methods to use medical humanities to inform and improve your medical practice (e.g. techniques of patient interviewing, observing subtle details in the physical exam)? 
  3. What are three features of medical humanities Web sites that you found most useful to you?  What three features seemed to make it more difficult, or decrease your motivation, to learn about medical humanities?