Social media in undergraduate medical education

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Last Update

This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, May 2017


See also Health 2.0 | Medicine 2.0 | Privacy in social networks | Social media portal | Research Portal for Academic Librarians

Social media has been defined as:

"...a category of online media where people are talking, participating, sharing, networking, and bookmarking online. Most social media services encourage discussion, feedback, voting, comments, and sharing of information from all interested parties. It's more of a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way broadcast like traditional media. (Jones, 2009)..."

Major reasons why social media may be important in biomedicine

  • health professionals are required to know about and navigate the web's communication and collaboration ecosystems
  • social media such as blogs, wikis, RSS and Twitter are beginning to change medical education, clinical practice and research
  • may broaden the modes of education including expanding the curriculum around the science of teamwork, quality improvement, culture of innovation, and safety; use of social media and other technologies to expand learning opportunities
  • web 2.0 may be an effective platform to bring patients, physicians and information together
  • wikis and blogs help people collaborate and work together across distances
  • social media help health professionals to network, communicate and form communities of practice
  • social media is one part of a larger curriculum in social medicine, an emerging field with big potential in medical schools as they integrate new ways of teaching into the medical school curriculum
  • " the internet is becoming more and more important in medicine, we must include digital literacy in medical education as young doctors must learn about internet-related issues..." (Bertalan Mesko, 2012)
  • According to Hommes et al " networks have been shown to increase student learning. In addition, academic motivation, social integration and prior performance have been shown increase student learning as well. In addition, motivation and social integration have shown to be socially constructed, which might cause indirect effects of social networks on student learning..."
  • According to Jaffer "The use of online social networks in medical education can remodel and enhance anatomy teaching and learning; one such network is the video-sharing site YouTube."

Professionalism issues

  • According to Cheston's 2012 systematic review, "...three themes emerged from the literature re: challenges presented by social media in medical education 1) breaches of professionalism (49% of articles), 2) user privacy (32%), and 3) information quality (27%)
  • other concerns are physicians' lack of time; tools create distractions; respecting professional boundaries and confidentiality
  • characteristics of social networking sites, blogs, and search engines have potential to pose problems of professional boundaries
  • professional boundaries in online communication can be subdivided into ethical concerns, professionalism and clinical dilemmas
  • the web redefines privacy and anonymity for clinicians; any activities must be managed
  • alteration of professional boundaries, professionalism and clinical work, arise due to complexities of cyberspace
  • preparing for practicing medicine in the digital age means learning how to manage digital information but also digital relationships and boundaries; includes e-patients, physician rating sites, clinical practices using social media, social media medicine competencies
  • what is gained by using social media (i.e., scholarship, professional development, advocacy, patient education, medical education) followed by what is at stake if physicians don't use social media (ethical and legal problems, licensing issues, public trust in profession)
  • issues include how to prepare doctors for digital doctoring, professionalism, generational differences in what is appropriate, formal guidelines/policies, issue of who social media "experts" are
  • education about social media for trainees needs to be framed in the positive: the opportunities
  • physicians should avoid making or accepting "friend" requests through social networking with patients

Social media competencies in medicine

  • social media literacies; familiarity with social media and its purpose
  • provide definitions of major terms and tools tool
  • recognize principles of using social media professionally
  • identify preferred social media tools for medical education
  • understand generational differences in technology/social media use and views on professionalism
  • understand privacy and security issues pertaining to social media
  • develop social media policies
  • online content may affect physician reputations and medical careers; may undermine public trust in medical profession

Social media best practices in medicine

  • Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used to disseminate information among health professionals and patients but, more recently, are being seen as a source of data for surveillance and research
  • Twitter hashtags are effective in building up a filter for information about new concepts in medicine
  • Twitter is also used more at conferences, enabling people on the other side of the world to follow the events live using a hashtag. You stick a label like #meded onto a Twitter post, and it enables others to connect to that conversation
  • “medical educators…felt that writing a deidentified patient narrative using a respectful tone was never or rarely acceptable (61%)” Chretien and Kind, 2013
  • Due to ease of use and widespread applicability, Twitter and Facebook are excellent applications of “push technology” as a means to deliver educational content. This pilot project demonstrates the potential of social media to both supplement and enhance traditional educational methods (Bahner, 2012)
  • ongoing need for continuing social media education, knowledge sharing, professional sharing (e.g. dialogue with colleagues about professional issues in online communities)
  • social media can help to build communities of learning and practice (for e.g. building Facebook pages for medical school courses, Twitter posts for medical school admissions) or patient support, especially in chronic conditions
  • through Twitter accounts, can be used for advising medical students, getting feedback from tutors, sharing ideas, curating flow of information, tweeting medical meetings, tweeting from the surgery, disaster management and response, etc.

Medical educators have both opportunities and responsibilities (Madanick, 2011): for themselves (supporting their continuing professional development, collaborative research, academic / scholarly communication, publishing and peer review), for their patients (improve their care and empowers them to have more control over their own data about their health), for their learners and for the public (gain media coverage, fundraising etc.). Although there are many opportunities offered by web 2.0 technologies, there is an increased need for training in how to use these technologies to enhance teaching and learning to support undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

Key websites

  • Khan Academy, in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, is looking for the next generation of medical educators. We are launching a competition to produce the best medical and pre-health video lessons and accompanying questions.
  • "...The school I envision would embrace technology not for its own sake, but as a means to improve deep conceptual understanding, to make quality, relevant education far more portable and – somewhat counterintuitively – to humanize the classroom. It would raise both the status and the morale of teachers by freeing them from the drudgery and allowing them more time to teach, to help. It would give students more independence and control, allowing they to claim true ownership of their education..."


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