Social Media and Critical Care - what's the deal?

Chris Poynter on 27-03-2014

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the smaccGOLD conference on the Gold Coast. It was amazingly good and I recommend it to anyone looking for an invigorating and fun educational experience.  I will get onto the SMACC experience in another blog but today I thought it best to dwell on the driving concept - Social media in medicine.


So what is SMACC? It stands for “Social Media And Critical Care” and this is where most traditionalists switch off when the topic is raised.  


Social Media gets a bad rap. 


It has been sullied by the like of Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton, not to mention innumerable semi-literate sports stars broadcasting their inner thoughts on what they had for breakfast or what colour is so hot right now.  


There are issues surrounding the terminology. Twitter, “tweeting” and “blogging” do not inspire thoughts of consummate professionalism.  The pseudonyms/twitter handles many people use lack gravitas. For example, some of the great minds which I follow on Twitter have handles like: @precordialthump, @SocraticEM, @CaptainBasilEM, @sandnsurf, @DogICUma and, wait for it... @ExtremeJellyman.  These are some of the better brains I have come across, they all work exceptionally hard and produce phenomenal work, yet happily label themselves with, at best, confusing pseudonyms.  FOAM (Free Open Access Medical education), although a nice acronym for an excellent concept, also brings forth less than serious images.  Although the use of social media is fast growing in medicine, I suspect that widespread adoption is hampered by this lack of the appearance of legitimacy or sincerity.  There is a discordance with the degree of seriousness and professionalism which is attached to almost everything else we do.  I’m not sure why this problem exists but suspect that it is because the tools of social media were firstly developed for play time, rather than work purposes.  Although they have fantastic utility at work, the nomenclature is already established.  Don’t get me wrong, taking a bit of the seriousness out of medicine and injecting some humour is a good thing but it does seem to have an effect on the image of the medium.  


Why is this important? Simply put, I believe that the advancement of social media is revolutionary in the way we practice and teach medicine.  Although I am convinced that this revolution will occur over time, it is currently being held back by misguided attitudes due to, ironically, poor communication of the concept via the media. The strength of social media in medicine is in its membership so it is critical that as many health professionals take part in these conversations to provide the best platform for discussion and knowledge dissemination.


Social media is just a set of online tools to increase communication.  The way in which those tools can be used is extremely variable.  It can range from banal flight-of-ideas broadcasting through sharing of key websites or links and on to high level discussions dissecting the latest literature or breaking down the grey areas of practice to clarify risks and benefits.  


The main tools currently seem to be: 


Twitter - which is fantastic for rapid dissemination of links (articles, blogs, podcasts,vodcasts) along with brief, succinct conversations. New relationships can be easily made but, unfortunately, due to its 140 character limit, conversations can quickly turn sour or remain overly superficial as the subtle nuances are lost. 


Googleplus takes over where Twitter leaves off. It provides the platform for more complex discussions and with google hangouts, there is potential for international meetings at will.  


However, there are plenty of other platforms of interaction in medicine ranging from simple email, through Facebook and LinkedIn, to Dropbox, Youtube and Vimeo. It is not necessarily what is used but how it is used and who by.


I use Twitter daily now as my main source of medical education.  It provides me instant access to a rolling stream of articles and commentary that I wasn’t part of a year ago.  I can quickly tune in on the bus or while waiting for coffee.  The concept of asynchronous learning is catching on. Having the ability to personalise the schedule for one’s learning to fit in with the rest of a busy life is a key attribute.  As a new consultant trying to stay on top of developments in two specialities, this is extremely convenient and reassuring.  I started by watching and reading only. Now I share anything I find interesting, comment where I feel I have somehing to add, and with this Blog I feel that I am contributing in my own small way to the dialogue out there.    


I am interested in what the Crit-IQ readership thinks and does on this issue. Am I preaching to the choir? Or do you think that I’m getting a bit over-enthusiastic? What do you think are the strengths and limitations of social media in medicine in its current form and where do you think it is going? 


As you can see, I am a convert. My advice is to jump aboard and be part of a more global conversation.  There are already plenty of outstanding clinicians out there sharing, why wouldn't you join them?


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Dale from Australia wrote 03-27-2014 04:30:36 pm
There's no doubt in my mind that Twitter and other social media has a place. However, we need to be realistic. All tools have a place, and all tools have limitations. Twitter is an excellent mechanism for sharing pre-digested bits of information or highlighting new podcasts, papers, events etc. That's what its good at, and that's how it should be used

Pretending its the panacea for all the ills of 'translation of research into practice' is folly. from Australia wrote 03-28-2014 03:09:50 pm
Nor is it good for debate (viz the Checklist Debate on Twitter between @rfdsdoc, self and colleagues)

I think the REAL benefit is FOAMed - with SoMe just one medium to exchange.

Meanwhile, dont forget that those in developing countries may struggle to access content-rich FOAMed (large podcasts/vodcasts)

...there's also the danger that those USING FOAMed are converts - early adopters if you like - whereas there are many many people who just dont see the need to keep abreast of the information tsunami

Dale from Australia wrote 03-29-2014 11:58:40 am
Exactly Tim.

That's also my concern. Right now we have a relatively contained quantity of information coming. If there is a rush of adopters, sorting out the wheat from the chaff will be next to impossible.

Christopher from New Zealand wrote 03-31-2014 10:35:30 am
I totally agree with you re: using twitter for debate Tim. You may recall I briefly waded in (and then slowly backed out from) a(nother) twitter debate discussing airway management in the ED and the relative skill sets of ED docs vs anaesthetists. It is very easy for short comments to sound terse or inflammatory as there is no room for complexity in twitter debate. However, when transferred to googleplus, the debate raged on and was more productive and civilized.

At the moment we already have a tsunami of information available Dale. I don't think a "rush of adopters" will overwhelm. I just think that the variety of viewpoints will broaden and with more choice of people to engage with, the quality will improve. You are certainly right that it is no panacea - it still requires lots of hard work and thought to process but the availability of information and discussion, I believe, is a game changer in increasing efficiency of learning and knowledge dissemination and enabling barriers to be broken down (ie. providing health professionals everywhere access to the same knowledge and debate if they want). That is its strength.

As for FOAM, it is amazing how much free stuff is out there and I truly hope that the concept continues to go from strength to strength. Information should be free. However, I think there will still possibly be a need for paid sites/sources due to the time, effort and resources required to produce high quality learning material. Time will tell




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