As I sat down on my couch on a Sunday evening to write a piece for my favorite magazine, ASCO Connection, I realized that this would be my first article in 2023, but I also realized that I have not written any ASCO Connection blogs for several months! The immediate thought that came to mind is that I have a busy work schedule (very busy at times), Christmas and New Year’s holidays, holiday greetings (and incidental January birthday greetings and replies!), lecture preparations, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), and just before SABCS, a COVID infection prolonged with a post-Paxlovid rebound. However, I thought, there is more to it… I think it is distraction!
I believe we all suffer from distraction nowadays! If not all of us, at least most of us living in the present times do. Why do I say that? Well, because, for example, even as I wrote the first paragraph of this article, I had 6 notifications on my iPhone: Twitter, WhatsApp, messages, etc. It has become hard to focus and be disconnected from messages, unless you shut down your phone, silence it, or forward it to a staff member who answers it for you. We are always afraid of missing an important message or phone call related to our patients, but we also have become hooked, not to say addicted, to notifications!
Many of us are friends and follow each other on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Often, we are happy receiving notifications regarding new articles or new conference presentations and even debate them and learn from each other on Twitter, for example. (One time I asked a friend of mine if she was going to the ASCO Annual Meeting or SABCS and she answered, “No, I will attend the meeting on Twitter!”)
I am afraid that unless people are working on a subject of their very own interest, they read fewer full-text articles, and even fewer full abstracts. Some people now just read the conclusion section of abstracts. As for reading books and textbooks, forget it!
I recall that during my years of residency and fellowship, and before taking my board exam, I used to carry The Washington Manual handbook in my white coat pocket and read every chapter related to my patients every day. I used to go to the hospital library and search Index Medicus. I read cover-to-cover the printed monthly or weekly versions of the American Journal of Medicine (most popular in the 1970s and 1980s and known as “The Green Journal”), Annals of Internal Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, Cancer, and the then newborn Journal of Clinical Oncology starting in the mid-1980s. I remember reading the entire Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine and DeVita’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology textbooks. I bet no resident nor fellow does that nowadays!
Even if trainees want to read every word published in our field, there is simply too much. Information has expanded enormously and is available by a simple click on a search button on Google and PubMed. It is okay to get to know the titles and summaries of advances in medicine, but it is our duty to make sure that we dig deep into new knowledge and search for unanswered questions.
Fortunately, we have great universities and professional societies, like our own ASCO, ESMO (European Society of Medical Oncology), and many others, who organize great research and educational activities that are widely attended by practitioners and researchers dedicated to advance medical knowledge and patient care.
Notifications and social media distractions have become part of modern living and inevitable. For the sake of ourselves, our patients, our friends, and our families, we need to learn how to set specific times and limitations for social media. Health and medical authorities also need to consider investing more in having enough personnel to assist physicians to follow up on patients’ messages and checking results. Physicians spend enormous amounts of time on electronic health records and documentation, a distraction which can take valuable time away from our patients and our research. In our curricula for medical students and trainees, we need to take into consideration that medical information has become available instantaneously on their phones, tablets, and laptops; this easy access to information gives us an opportunity to focus more on doctor-patient relationships, humanism, and social issues. How about considering all of that as our 2023 New Year’s resolutions!