Some of you may be aware that I serve as an assistant professor at a pharmacy school by day. As such, research and writing play a major role for me in my professional life.

Needless to say, the realm of mHealth has offered me a new and novel way as a pharmacist to engage in this scholarly field. I often question what role my writing at iMedicalApps plays in this professional life?

There are many other healthcare professionals that keep an active web presence. This ranges from Kevin Pho’s KevinMD blogging sphere to Berci Mesko social media curated Webicina.

Thrown into that mix you have many notable professionals who maintain an active Twitter account and regularly post ideas and topics to be discussed. Though, in an academic field where ‘Publish or Die’ is a common saying (especially for tenure), where does all of this work come into play?

Recently, I came across an article in Nature by Heather Piwowar titled, ‘Altmetrics: Value all research products.’ (1) The paper inherently struck a cord.

It touched on an idea that emphasizes the age we are in–where the very duties of the internet are now merged with our daily activities and functions. As of January 14, 2013, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) will have the principal investigator not only list their publications, but also their ‘products.’ (1)

So what does this mean?

Well, NSF now states “Acceptable products must be citable and accessible, including but not limited to publications, data sets, software, patents, and copyrights.” That’s amazing. The field opens to other activities previously not included in a researcher’s biographical sketch. Blog posts, mobile apps, Tweets, may now play a larger role in a researcher’s output. (1) The question becomes, though, how do we measure these functions?

Whereas most publications can be rated based off their impact factor — which can be a debatable topic on its own rights — these new products NSF will allow are rather hard to measure. I like Heather’s use of the term ‘Altmetrics’ as it touches on the fact that maybe we need to find another way to measure the impact of our work. Is the number of retweets important? The number or likes? How many times an article is read or shared?

Monitoring citations of posts may be a large challenge. However, we cannot deny the internet has changed the conversation and the breadth of research and is having very real impact from laboratory bench work to clinical practice. A few weeks ago I collaborated with Joel Topf about a particular case of endocarditis he blogged about here. It’s fascinating that we can have this level of communication, but does this count toward our professional livelihood now?

I, for one, feel this is a great way of moving forward with research, and valuing what we do, outside of pure peer-reviewed publications. While that ‘gold standard’ may not diminish for some time, the fact remains that other works are having equal impact on our practice and fostering lively discussions that change our mindsets. In the end, is that not the most important part of research? To foster the growth of knowledge for an end goal of helping us and our patients?

Social media plays a large role that must not be ignored. Increased communication and open-sourcing of knowledge is amazing. We are now seeing the debacle of the recent death of Aaron Swartz and his campaign for larger access to information. The web, based on our own writing, can grow and prosper and share knowledge. The thing holding it back was, for many of us, the mentality of ‘Publish or Die.’ This movement opens up a new realm for us, and I think the next few years will be interesting to see.

In the meantime, I need to update my CV with all my posts now…

1. Piwowar H. Altmetrics: Value all research products. Nature. 2013;493(7431):159.