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News: How Twitter Can Save a Life

Bufano, Paul

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000440907.61738.4a

Not too long ago, Matt Dawson, MD, conducted a study that could have taken months if not years to be published the traditional way. Instead of waiting for the results to go through the lengthy peer review process, however, he decided on another route: social media. He explained the results in a podcast and posted it online. The podcast went viral, and received a ton of feedback from physicians who said it made a real difference in their practice.

Facebook and Twitter are here to stay, and it is imperative that emergency physicians have some professional presence in today's digital world, Dr. Dawson told a group of tech-enthused emergency physicians in his lecture, “Rapid Fire: Tweets & Pokes: The Pearls & Pitfalls of Social Media Use,” at the recent American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly in Seattle.

Social media websites can be used to enhance a professional's image and have been positioned as the next generation of tools to improve patient care, he said. “There's no more efficient way to tell people about what's going on in emergency medicine than with social media,” said Dr. Dawson, the director of emergency ultrasound and point-of-care ultrasound at the University of Kentucky and the director of ultrasound for Mesa Medical Group, both in Lexington. “We've found out that our residents actually learn more from podcasts than from textbooks. They prefer it, and find it nearly twice as beneficial because the material is more current.”

Dr. Dawson's podcast partner Mike Stone, MD, the division chief of emergency ultrasound and the emergency ultrasound fellowship director at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, recently received a patient he was not sure how to treat. He searched the web, and happened to come across a study that had yet to be peer-reviewed. Nonetheless, he used that information to treat the patient successfully, an outcome that might not have been possible without social media.

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Many people still oppose social media for educational purposes, labeling it unprofessional and untested, but few movements have gained more traction in recent years than FOAMed, Free Open Access Meducation, which was created to highlight cutting-edge information via Twitter, Dr. Dawson said. Most tweeters are familiar with it as #FOAMed, the hashtag making it easier for them to search Twitter for threads that focus on web-based medical information. Conversations happen live and users communicate with their colleagues around the world to share their experiences and knowledge, he said.

“There is junk on Twitter, but there isn't any more than you'll find in every ED,” Dr. Dawson said. “You have to learn who to follow and who to trust and distrust. Google+ has some really cool aspects like its live hangout feature where anyone can watch and join in at any time. But my favorite medium is Twitter because of its rich conversation and because of its retweet function. You may miss something that was originally tweeted, but have the possibility to find it later down the line.”

Longtime believers in the value of social media and FOAMed, Drs. Dawson and Stone began to produce podcasts about two years ago. They were determined to make a difference, but soon realized it would be more difficult and expensive than either had anticipated. The equipment cost $3,000, app production was $4,000, and the amount of time they spent on production has since totaled $160,000. The podcasts have been downloaded tens of thousands of times, and thanks to a donate button, the doctors have made back a whopping $304.

But physicians should not produce educational content with the expectation of becoming rich because that will only lead to disappointment, Dr. Dawson warned. The potential benefits of sharing novel medical material with people who want to continue their education, however, should be enough incentive for everyone to do it, he said.

“That's why I'm doing this. I'm doing it because it enriches my life and the lives of people all over,” he said. “I have several good friends from Australia that I've never met, but we communicate digitally and even work on projects together. Whether you're an experienced physician or a new medical student, I really think being active with social media will make you a better doctor. There are certain risks and it certainly isn't for everyone, but if you can manage it, it's invaluable.”

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