Monday, December 13, 2010

Barriers to use of Social Media in Medical Education

I just came across 2007 this study - an online survey- of UK medical students, house staff and physicians regarding their opinion regarding use of social media in medical education.  Invitations were sent by e-mail to 6000 people and 21% responded.  The barriers identified by the responders were:

  1. Would like to use social media for my education but don't know how
  2. Don't like to use technology for my education
  3. Lack of awareness of quality resources - don't trust the content
  4. Lack of access at workplace and lack of time.
These were 4 themes that emerged from 60 free text comments in the survey responses.  That's a pretty small percentage of people from those who responded who bothered to enter a free text comment.  Combine that with the 21% response rate and it suggests that we have to interpret the results with a degree of caution.  Unfortunately for studies like this (email invitations to large number of people) these types of numbers are not unusual. The authors need to be commended for the effort they made to get this data.  

The authors commented that respondents appeared to be generally interest in Web 2.0 tools including social media. 

Do these 4 themes cover all the reasons why doctors don't use social media?  In my experience, I think there are even now (in 2010) a lot of physicians who think that using social media in healthcare is a waste of time (different than not having time to use it) and that apps like FB and Twitter are used by a bunch of narcissistic mutual back slappers.  There are numerous ideas and examples of how social media are, or can be, used in medical education (examples).  The problem is that these discussions about uses of social media occur in the blogosphere or on Twitter or FB.  The Average Joe physician is unlikely to get exposed to these, unless it reaches the mainstream print journals.

Measuring true outcomes (Kirkpatrick Level 4) from educational interventions is difficult  but it will probably take a study that shows an impact on outcome measures that is published in a reputed journal to change some people's minds.   To make matters worse, the print journals are constantly publishing case studies and guidelines regarding professionalism (or the lack thereof) and social media and this scares away some of the physicians who might be interested in this medium.  Physicians have already been burned by adopting clinical practices without sufficient good evidence and then having to go back when these were proven wrong (e.g. hormone replacement therapy).  So one can understand why some will "look" before leaping!  Even with educational practices we have seen the rise and fall of Learning Management Systems.  How can medical educators and physicians be sure that social media is not just another fad?  

It reminds me of a talk I gave in 1995 titled "The Internet and Medicine: Why Physicians should Pay Attention" and later wrote up for a medical journal.  There is a great The New Yorker cover by Edward Sorel which shows Whistler's Mother looking skeptically at a telephone.  I had referred to this cover when I gave that talk in 1995.  Maybe it is time to bring out that old issue of The New Yorker!