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Feature: SIR, connected 

01-08-2019 14:05

How the SIR Connect Open Forum has maximized collaboration among members for improved patient care

By James J. Morrison, MD, and James Benjamin Moroney, MD  Winter 2019

IR's hands at laptop keyboard

Social media has evolved into an integral method of modern personal and professional communication. Health care is no exception. From online patient portals and physician rating sites to telemedicine and biometric data apps, social media is used extensively every day in health care.

Since SIR Connect’s launch, the Open Forum has provided an innovative social media platform on which SIR members can collaborate. Since it went live in February 2015, the more than 9,000 posts have disseminated information, answered questions and shared a vast array of experiences. Unlike most online forums, SIR Connect provides content sharing exclusively among SIR members, enhancing the quality and transparency of shared information while strengthening the sense of community.

Despite the popularity of such online collaborative networks for medical knowledge sharing and education, little is known about the specific content being shared and how practitioners use the information. To better understand the impact of this platform on IR, we evaluated each post on the Open Forum over a two-year period, from February 2015 to March 2017.

Borrowing from qualitative research methods, we started by developing a taxonomy of discussion threads and response posts before applying the derived categorization across the dataset. This type of qualitative analysis has been previously implemented in various online communities to better understand user content and traffic2.

We generated the initial taxonomy by evaluating a subset of 100 posts and categories empirically created by each researcher. The group of researchers ultimately agreed on 14 discussion thread themes, 12 discussion topics and 10 response types to encompass the diverse forum content (Table 1). Three researchers (one IR attending and two 4th-year medical students) independently applied the established taxonomy to the 4,814 individual posts collected over the two-year study period (827 initial posts and 3,987 response posts). Discrepancies among authors were reevaluated until a final consensus was established.

Most thread themes were clinical questions (48.2 percent), representing either a specific case (33.7 percent) or general clinical question (14.5 percent). Of these clinical questions, the predominant topics related to vascular procedures (27.7 percent), followed by oncologic (8.0 percent), hepatobiliary (6.4 percent) and gynecologic (4.7 percent) subjects. Most response posts represented one of three categories: anecdotal (38.9 percent), general (20.4 percent) and advice (15.4 percent). Of note, medical literature was referenced in only 4.8 percent of all response posts. Interestingly, members were as likely to contribute responses across a variety of infrequent themes and subjects as they were to more common ones.

In addition, we investigated the relationship between threads and responses on the basis of the original post’s day of the week and time of day. Of the 827 new threads, most were posted on Wednesdays (18.4 percent), closely followed by Tuesdays (17.5 percent). Most thread responses were subsequently posted on Thursdays (18.1 percent), indicating that members can obtain a significant response rate to their question within 24–48 hours of their initial post. Furthermore, we also noted that most responses (42.9 percent) were posted between 7–11 a.m., suggesting that member activity in the forum occurs predominantly on weekday mornings.

It is important to acknowledge that the number and timing of posts may not fully reflect how the SIR Connect Forum is used. Many “silent” members log into the forum to view posts without contributing their own responses. As such, it is possible that member activity may fluctuate beyond the number and timing of posts. Furthermore, thread contributions among members vary greatly, with a subset of “super contributors” who initiate many new conversations and respond to existing posts. Consequently, the popularity of certain topics on the forum may be somewhat skewed toward subject matter that these members find interesting.

Consensus categories for the empirically derived taxonomy


The SIR Connect Open Forum is a tremendous open-source IR knowledge base that facilitates the transfer of knowledge and experience among society members. Our analysis represents a first attempt at understanding the content and use of shared information among SIR members. The information generated from this qualitative analysis could be further used to create a layer of metadata about each post, enabling future analysis and enhancing search capabilities to help SIR members directly seek specific topics of interest.

Considerations for future enhancements to the forum should include a voting system, used in many social media platforms, to help increase visibility and interest in specific topics. This will allow users to quickly identify topics of interest among the daily thread posts that they may choose to read. For clinical questions, an “up-voting” feature would also be beneficial in recognizing the response posts that are considered the consensus best answer to a particular question. Finally, generating a point system for contributors and their posts will help members discern the “super contributors” who likely post high-quality thread topics and resources.

These modifications will not only help members share information but will also help to organize forum content and facilitate the user experience.


The authors thank Sukjin Koh, MD, and Xiao-Yue Han, MD, for their assistance with the research on which this article was based.


  1. Sedory, S. Welcome to SIR Connect! [Forum Post] Feb. 12, 2015: Available from: percent2fcommunities percent2fcommunity-home percent2fdigestviewer percent3fcommunitykey percent3d0c6966c7-7366-441e-9eeb-4f5619f68b1e percent26tab percent3ddigestviewer.
  2. Treude, C. and M.-A. Storey. Effective communication of software development knowledge through community portals, in Proceedings of the 19th ACM SIGSOFT symposium and the 13th European Conference on Foundations of Software Engineering 2011, ACM: Szeged, Hungary. p. 91–101.
  3. Wright, A., et al. Clinical decision support alert malfunctions: Analysis and empirically derived taxonomy. J Am Med Inform Assoc, 2018. 25(5): p. 496–506.

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  6. Ezana M. Azene, MD, PhD
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