Friday, August 4, 2017

Talk at Serious Play on VR in Medical Education

I presented a talk on "3D Virtual Reality Using Oculus To Teach Complicated 3D Structures" at the 2017 Serious Play Conference, Hylton Performing Arts Center, Manassas, VA on July 19, 2018. Here is my bio on the site.

My presentation at Serious Play was to approximately 25 clinical and science faculty members as well as to some in the audience who specifically focused on education in medical school. I learned that despite being technologically sophisticated and enthusiastic, listeners varied widely in their experience with virtual reality. They were all willing to expand their knowledge.

My talk focused on how to convey the value of VR to administration to aid adoption and purchase decisions. This issue was well received and perceived as a significant problem.

As we attempt to deploy virtual reality technology in medical education we need to look beyond interest on the part of the student but assess interest, enthusiasm, and actual VR experience by the faculty member. Administration and curriculum committee awareness of and experience with virtual reality is also essential to deployment but is likely to be low. A strategy to address these limitations is necessary to obtain support for the technology.

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about the talk or about the topic in general.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Rise of Social Media and Adoption by Medical Students

The rise of social media is changing marketing strategy. United Airlines is the most recent example of the dangers of ignoring the role of social media. They paid dearly regarding market value until they quelled a social media-based firestorm trashing its brand and (potentially) altering purchase decisions.1

In its early days of social media, evidence of the marketing value was unclear. Early proponents claimed vast potential to reach the customer, but many unknowns clouded its potential, especially concerns regarding impact, and the challenge of measuring impact. Such concerns are in the past. With an audience of 180 million (56% of the population) in the US in 2015, and expected growth to over 200 million (>60%) in 2020.2 The digital marketer cannot ignore the potential value of engaging the target market using social media.

The reach across a broad demographic is large, about 50% of social media users are older than 35 years old. Use of social media is highest for users 18-24 years old (>90%) and still high for users <17 years old (84%).2 Activity increasingly occurs using a smartphone. Of the 180 million users, 88% use a smartphone. Smartphone based use is expected to continue to grow to the detriment of desktop viewing2 thus favoring smaller screens and location specific content. To obtain the attention of the potential consumer, the digital marketer must investigate social media and assume users access social media using their smartphone.

Earlier concerns acknowledged the reach of social media however some doubted if social marketing would succeed commercially and justify the high valuations. It is possible that a herd effect may have driven initial spending on social media and spending was not necessarily reflective of actual value. But, metrics to measure marketing goal achievement and ROI of social media involvement have evolved, and revenue for social media has shown a steady increase of dollars spent. Facebook accounts for most revenue; it alone has seen revenue from $12B in 2014 to $27B in 2016. By comparison, in 2016 Linked received $3B and Twitter $2.5B.3

Usage is another metric to assess social media platforms and their impact. In the US in 2016 monthly users were as follows: Facebook (149M), Instagram [owned by Facebook] (75M), Snapchat and Pinterest (51M) and Twitter (47M). YouTube had 116M visitors; however, it should be considered more of a passive video delivery medium rather than a pure social network since although there is a discussion component most activity is not social in nature. All the others fall far behind.4

Impact regarding social media is also a function of the number of users times average time spent. From that perspective, Facebook excels and dwarfs its competition with 50 minutes per user per day in June of 2016.5

Facebook excels at both time spent per user and number of users; thus their dominance is even greater than one might predict based on the number of users6(p10). A social networking strategy that ignores social media other than Facebook is indeed justifiable; one that ignores Facebook is not.

Social Media and Medical Students

Medical student use of social media is quite high, measured at over 90% in 20117 and has almost certainly grown since then. Initial concerns of medical educators focused on the dangers associated with a medical student using social media to divulge patient information.8 The expressed fear was that usage of social media, such as Facebook, would evidence weakened professionalism9. A demonstration of lack of harm caused by social media involvement calmed such doubts; however, evidence at that point concluded that no educational benefits existed.10 Instead, educators highlighted the need to educate students about the proper use of social media regarding patient care11; In general, the attitude toward the value of social media moved slowly toward cautious optimism.12 Despite the negative association of social media by some faculty, enthusiasm and interest in social media by medical students remained high.13

More recently there is a desire to remove the negative association of social media with unprofessional behavior and embrace its ability to enhance communication.14 Social media improves communication capability and successfully enhanced research communication and interest.8 Additional articles outline the value of Facebook for anatomy education16 and stress management.17 Despite the earlier rejection of social media, the medical training establishment appears to be embracing its potential value.

Medical education does not intend to get in the way of medical students using social media and may, in fact, support it. Engaging medical students via social media is a viable strategy. The community building potential and peer support offered by social media counter the challenge and stress of medical school. The social media community also enhances communication between students and medical experts. Given high percentage penetration of social media use, educators and those higher up in the academic hierarchy likely use it as well.


  1. Police drag a man from a United Airlines plane. The Economist.

  2. eMarketer. US Social StatPack: Usage and Ad Spending. May 2016.

  3. Social media: revenue of selected companies 2016 | Statistic. Statista.

  4. The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report. ComScore Inc.

  5. Stewart James B. Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.. The New York Times. Published May 5, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2017.

  6. Activate Tech and Media Outlook 2017.Technology at October 25, 2016.

  7. Bosslet Gabriel T, Torke Alexia M, Hickman Susan E, Terry Colin L, Helft Paul R. The Patient–Doctor Relationship and Online Social Networks: Results of a National Survey. J Gen Intern Med. October 1, 2011;26(10):1168-1174. doi:10.1007/s11606-011-1761-2.

  8. Foley Niamh M, Maher Bridget M, Corrigan Mark A. Social Media and Tomorrow’s Medical Students--How Do They Fit?. J Surg Educ. June 2014;71(3):385-390. doi:10.1016/j.jsurg.2013.10.008.

  9. Osman Ahmed, Wardle Andrew, Caesar Richard. Online Professionalism and Facebook--Falling through the Generation Gap. Med Teach. 2012;34(8):e549-556. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2012.668624.

  10. Cartledge Peter, Miller Michael, Phillips Bob. The Use of Social-Networking Sites in Medical Education. Med Teach. October 2013;35(10):847-857. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2013.804909.

  11. Pander Tanja, Pinilla Severin, Dimitriadis Konstantinos, Fischer Martin R. The Use of Facebook in Medical Education--a Literature Review. GMS Z Med Ausbild. 2014;31(3):Doc33. doi:10.3205/zma000925.

  12. Popoiu Marius Calin, Grosseck Gabriela, Holotescu Carmen. What do We Know about the Use of Social Media in Medical Education?. Procedia - Soc Behav Sci. January 1, 2012;46:2262-2266. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.05.466.

  13. El Bialy Safaa, Jalali Alireza. Go Where the Students Are: A Comparison of the Use of Social Networking Sites Between Medical Students and Medical Educators. JMIR Med Educ. September 8, 2015;1(2). doi:10.2196/mededu.4908.

  14. Hennessy CM. Lifting the Negative Cloud of Social Media Use Within Medical Education. PubMed J. February 2017.

  15. Al-Khateeb Abdulrahman A, Abdurabu Hanan Y. Using Social Media to Facilitate Medical Students’ Interest in Research. Med Educ Online. 2014;19:25860.

  16. Exploring the Use of a Facebook Page in Anatomy Education. PubMed J.

  17. Facebook Stress Management Group for Year 1 Medical Students. PubMed J.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Choosing an E-commerce Platform

So you have decided that you want to sell a product online. What next?

Building an Online Presence: First of all, get an understanding of the challenges and risks ahead of you. Get a clear vision of what it means to engage in e-commerce before you jump into the task of setting up a new website. In the decision to establish a site, keep in mind that this is a business. You are not creating a blog or a personal expression. Your goal is to make money selling products online. So put aside the need to create a lovely website or to provide pithy information.; those components are only relevant in as far as they help you sell products.

Storing the Product for Delivery: How will you manage the product after assembly? Your product must be available in sufficient quantity that users can receive it quickly. And you must have a means by which it can be stored and is still ready to be shipped promptly. How are you going to do that?

Gathering Customer Attention: Next comes the challenge of customers finding you and your marketing of the product to gather attention and enthusiasm. How will you stand out among the thousands of e-commerce websites already out there? Is your product so unique that it will engender a high-profit margin? Is it a commodity which will succeed based mostly on price? Also, consider if you want to offer special pricing to entice users to purchase your product such as a sale in July or a discount for first customers. Thus, how much control do you want to have over the marketing aspect of your product?

After the Sale: Once a customer has decided to buy your product you need to be informed of their purchase and engage a rapid and consistent system of shipping that product out to the customer reliably and efficiently. In a global market, users could be anywhere and potentially speak any language. You need to decide how far and wide you're going to ship and what methods you were going to use to ship the products.

When the Sale Sours: Unfortunately, the story does not always end there. Many times the product is seen as defective on the part of the customer, or there are shipping errors. These mistakes can lead to negative impressions of your product which harm sales in the future. How will you handle a request for returns and refund? Do you have a window upon which you will accept returns and outside of which you will reject them? Payments too can become problematic. The buyer can refuse the credit card payment. Depending on the credit cards you accept, you may have little or no recourse but to refund customers.

Happy Customers: Once you have established a relationship with a client, you may want to engage them in a system of longer-term retention to enable repeat sales or sales of similar products. You need to decide how integrated that system will be and time intensive for you to maintain. Similarly, will you somehow reward purchases and enable users to receive a discount for additional products? How will you get them to write a review or expressing interest in your products?

Choosing an E-commerce Platform: There are essentially three choices for an e-commerce platform.
  1. First, you can go it alone. That means you control the servers, the domains, the security certificates, and the payment system such as PayPal. 
  2. The second option would be to engage one of the many shopping platforms such Shopify. Shopify competes in a complicated Market. There are other shopping platforms which you would want to consider such as Bigcommerce Magento yo Kart and Big Cartel.
  3. The last option is the gorilla in the room, and that is Amazon. For the novice to e-commerce, Amazon has an incredibly complete help system with video and audio which explain components of the process step by step. 
Going it Alone: The above issues make it clear that creating your e-commerce website from scratch is unlikely to be a good choice and likely to be a source of risk and headaches. Few sellers choose this route anymore, and you should probably discard it.

e-commerce Platforms besides Amazon: Shopify is an example of a very easy e-commerce platform to engage. It will address most of your needs. But it doesn't necessarily have all the features you are looking for

Although the e-commerce platforms are popular, anyone who has purchased on Amazon understands its market power and influence. Unless there is a compelling reason to choose an e-commerce platform, Amazon should be your first choice to introduce your product to the market and engender sales. If sales disappoint or you feel that better returns could be obtained, then you can certainly engage a marketing platform to supplement Amazon or potentially to replace it. But as you start to investigate the value of e-commerce for your product Amazon and it's support for your growing operation, Amazon is a powerful and easy place to start.

Amazon constrains your site to the Amazon interface and approach. If you feel that a unique selling strategy is important or essential to your product's sales, then the look and feel of the Amazon experience may not work for your product. On Amazon, you will find many unique and different products. Those companies have likely assumed that the marketing power and sales potential of Amazon outweigh possible benefits of a custom-designed website regarding sales or the expense of effort required.

Amazon comes in two flavors to the seller one in which you continue to manage warehousing and fulfillment and mainly use their structure for marketing, customer acquisition, and customer relationship management. Amazon brings s together many of the pieces involved in e-commerce and has established standards at a higher level than large shopping platforms.

Amazon FBA
Amazon is interested in your forming an even closer relationship by engaging in their fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program. FBA removes almost all of the challenges of e-commerce in exchange for your paying Amazon for this service. FBA is provided in two sections, one for the individual and one for the business depending on the number of sales. If the number of sales is beyond 40 items per month, then the business strategy is the optimal choice.

Why Amazon FBA
Amazon FBA offers a solution to almost all e-commerce questions and concerns. It handles warehousing, fast shipping, returns, payment systems, and product reviews. It also has tools to get an overview of your product, assess sales, and identify areas where you can improve the performance of your sales operation. You essentially lose control and gain freedom.

Amazon's goal is to get you to utilize Amazon FBA to sell your product, and they have developed a system that will accomplish this aim. Further Amazon is always endeavoring to expand its market and better serve its customers. As seen by Amazon's next day delivery and same day delivery, they will continue to push the boundaries of e-commerce and to delight customers by addressing their desire for a clean, seamless, and quick purchasing experience. So keep in mind that this is a field of rapid change. For your product will you gain from such rapid change or be harmed by an inability to keep up with the field of e-commerce? FBA is a bet that Amazon will stay on top of e-commerce. That assumption hasn't been proven wrong yet.