A Critical Use of Social Media in Medicine is for Learning

August 30, 2012
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The Bleak Reality

The Bleak Reality

The evidence base supporting medical practice is growing at an exponential rate, and the time when any one physician could stay abreast of this evidence base has long since passed. Physicians in the primary care field and physicians in data-intensive and rapidly changing specialties such as oncology bear a particularly heavy burden in trying to manage this avalanche of information. Moreover, it is expected that newer forms of medically relevant information (comparative effectiveness research, patient-reported outcomes, personalized genomic and proteomic analyses, etc.) will need to be seamlessly integrated into medical practice.

As a result, within the next five years, the evolution of medicine will face an alarming bottleneck when the systems to support the publication, dissemination, uptake, and integration of new information will likely fail.

(Perhaps not the best way to start a post on being ‘social’)

Social Learning in Medicine

Social learning theory has long been explored in the professions of medicine and education. In the past these explorations focused on simple connection derived from training pedigree, geography, and shared memberships in medical societies or associations. But with the emergence of social media the concepts of social learning can encompass a myriad of nontraditional connections and uses.

It is my hypothesis that docs may use social media in three separate ‘meaningful’ ways:

1. As a means of medical practice—providing direct patient care
2. As a public health communication channel—providing a credible opinion and review of breaking medical news and reports for the public
3. As a means of supporting their own continuing professional development—providing a learning and decision-making resource based on the collective knowledge of their own network

In the beginning of 2011 I, along with collaborators from Baylor (@doctor_v), Johns Hopkins (@rsm2800), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (@mwasko), set out to better understand this third definition of the meaningful use of social media—how docs are using social media to share medical information and support their own continuing professional development.

Stay Tuned for Our Initial Peer-Reviewed Data Set

In research presented at the Medicine 2.0 meeting last fall at Stanford University, we reported for the first time on the meaningful adoption of social media as a professional learning resource, but we barely scratched the surface of the stories our data has to tell…and now it looks like our fuller dataset will be finally published in JMIR within the next month!!!

In the weeks that follow the publication of this research I will be taking special effort to explore and share the dataset in its fullest and I would love this community to join me.  There are countless additional questions to be asked – some may be answerable with the existing dataset, others may take additional research – and we would be foolish to believe that this community can’t help us craft better and more insightful research questions.

Please keep an eye out for this research and please do not hesitate to contact me if you think there are other questions you are ready to explore.

 

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