Be a Life-long Learner: Take a Health Webinar

Patient Expert

For years, I’ve seen notices about webinars on topics that interested me. However, I found the idea of signing up for one intimidating. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I didn’t know what was involved. This fall I’ve taken two webinars, and now I don’t understand why I let imaginary barriers deter me. The process was much easier than pie!

A webinar is a live seminar you can participate in via the internet. Schools, businesses, and other organizations offer them on a variety of topics. A webinar allows an organization to get information to people in different locations at the same time. They usually permit those attending to ask questions in real time and may allow for interactive discussions. Webinars make it easy for anyone with internet access to be a life-long learner.

Although there will be some variations depending on the software used, here is what happened when I took my most recent webinar, "You've Lost that Loving Feeling (and How to Get it Back!).” People in support groups I belong to often write about how cancer treatments have affected them sexually, but we are usually just trading frustrations. This presentation sounded like a way for me to get some solid information. Although the webinar was specifically directed to women with metastatic inflammatory breast cancer, I know that their issues would be similar for anyone with breast cancer.

How I attended the webinar

1. Registering. When I decided that I wanted to take the webinar, I clicked on the link to register. The only information I needed to give was my name and my email address. I received an email giving me more information about the webinar. It offered me the opportunity to email questions about the topic ahead of time, so that the lecturer could include my concerns in the talk. It also told me exactly how to log on when the time came.

2. Attending the webinar. At the appointed hour, I clicked on the link provided. The directions explained how to sign on from a home or mobile phone and different kinds of computers. I used my laptop computer. Right away I could see the opening screen, but I couldn’t hear anything. I played with the volume control on my computer to no avail. But the screen had a link in case you had trouble connecting. When I clicked on that, I could hear the presenters.

Ginny Mason, representing the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Elda Railey, the computer person facilitating the mechanics of it, made the introductions and checked to make sure that the connections were working. Then Don S. Dizon, M.D., started his lecture. In this case, the screen showed his lecture slides, but some webinars feature a live camera.

There was a chat box below the screen for asking questions and a button labeled “Raise hand,” for the same purpose. In this particular webinar, the audience was quiet, but the mechanics offer the possibility for audience participation.

3. Conflicting schedules? Webinars are often recorded so that people can listen to them later. Depending on the webinar provider, you might still need to register beforehand. If you know you have a conflict, ask if a recording will be available. Then register to be notified when the recording will be available for you to view at your leisure.

Other info to consider

How can you know if the information presented in a webinar is accurate? Like any other information, you need to be smart about how you evaluate what you hear. Consider the following:

- How reputable is the organization offering the webinar? Is it a university or health support group? If the organization is trying to sell you products, bring some healthy skepticism to the presentation. The products may be wonderful, but understand the bias underlying the lecture. Think of it as one of those infomercials you see on TV. I’ve worked with the IBC Research Foundation for years and am familiar with other educational materials this non-profit has produced, so I was confident it would be a quality offering.

- What are the credentials of the main presenter? A bio should be available including his or her educational background and current position. For a webinar on health topics, you want to see affiliation with a university or hospital. Ideally, the speaker is known as an expert on the topic. Dr. Dizon is affiliated with both a medical school and major hospital, so I trusted his credentials.

- How does the speaker back up the information presented? While anecdotes about individuals can be entertaining, you also want to hear facts backed up by research data. The speaker should make the source of the data clear. Dr. Dizon cited his source for every study he included at the bottom of each slide. I had confidence that he knew what he was talking about because his data came from many sources and clinical trials.

The next time you see a notice about a webinar on a topic that interests you, don’t hesitate. Get some more information and find out what is involved in registering. You do not have to live in a university town to have access to great information. You can be a life-long learner from the comfort of home.

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