Why the CME community is lacking in its use of social media

Both the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPAC), as well as the stimulus bill from last year included funding, which focused on the use of health information technology (HIT) and electronic health records (EHRs). These initiatives are aimed at getting health care providers and entities to begin using information technology to improve the quality, efficiency, and delivery of care to patients.

Along the same lines as using HIT, a recent article looked at ways for health care providers to adopt the use of social media for health care related activities. Specifically, Brian S. McGowan, PhD, noted that the continuing medical education (CME) community has not “fully adopted the use of social media for its activities—yet.”

He recognized this “lagging” because other areas of medicine such as patient advocacy and industry are using social media regularly. As evidence to the lack of use of social media in the CME community, McGowan pointed out that of “the more than 1,500 attendees at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education, only six people were tweeting via Twitter—and only a couple were contributing more than “come see my booth”-type messages.”

McGowan also acknowledged that the CME community is lacking in its use of social media because “although there are a few CME blogs, social networking sites, and LinkedIn user groups, traffic and contributions have been limited to a rather small and vocal group.”

One of the reasons McGowan believes its “understandable” that the CME community has not taken full advantage of social media is because there are not many clear examples of its effective use, and there are few evidence-based best practices. Another reason CME professionals struggle with using social media is because for the past five to ten years they have been forced “to stay on top of ever-changing compliance practices and documentation requirements, making social media seem like a risk not worth taking.”

But even faced with these challenges, McGowan points out that “if effectively adopted, social media could ignite the revolutionary advances in the CME community that many internal and external critics have been demanding.” To demonstrate the potential effect using social media technologies could have on the CME community, McGowan cited three principals.

First, using social media will support CME activities, initiatives, and healthcare professional learning. Such support would include using social media to direct HCPs to accredited CME events, peer reviewed journals, and clinical studies. This would give HCPs a reliable source of information to depend on, which is especially important considering “a Manhattan Research report from April 2010 suggests that up to 50 percent of healthcare provid­ers have used the online, user-compiled encyclopedia Wikipedia in practice.” Accordingly, the CME community should begin using social media to prevent HCPs from relying on less credible and less regulated sources of medical information, especially since the broader medical community is already doing so.

Second, using social media will support the career development of CME professionals. For example, there are hundreds of resources (blogs, online communities, Web chats) outside of CME that are broadcast through the Twitter stream each day. Since the learning and quality-improvement communities are actively engaging in social media, not adopting the use of social media will hinder the career development of CME professionals. Specifically, McGowan noted that “by delaying adoption of social media, we are ignoring readily available best practices used by other forms of adult education and delaying personal development and professional transformations that are vitally needed.” This is a valid point because through social media, the CME community could gain valuable feedback about effective strategies for education.

The third and final principal McGowan asserted is that social media will amplify the voice of CME advocacy. Through the use of social media technologies, CME professionals can disseminate outcomes and assessment data through numerous channels, and discuss stories of the benefits and value of CME. Moreover, “as an increasing number of advocates speak out in support of CME, social media becomes the quickest, simplest, and most cost-effective channel for sharing these successes.” Accordingly, if the CME community continues to ignore social media, they will miss “out on the opportunity to share all of its wonderful work and success stories in an easily accessible channel that keeps up with the fast-pace of modern news cycles and new media.”

Accordingly, to address these three principles, we need strategies to help the CME community begin to use social media, which may even include training professionals how to use social media. We need to establish goals for CME professionals who use social media and ways to measure these goals, such as enhanced educational value, better ways to provide feedback to CME providers, more exchange between peers and colleagues, or more access to information about activities and initiatives.

It is clear from McGowan’s principles that social media holds great promise for the CME community, and recognizing the revolutionary advances it could ignite, the CME community should begin amplifying their voices and use social media to support their activities and professionals. The sooner we do this, the faster the public will realize that the education we provide to physicians and the collaboration we partake in with industry, non-profit organizations, academia, and government, is what continues to help advance medicine and make patients healthier.

Thomas Sullivan is founder of Rockpointe who blogs at Policy and Medicine.

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