When most of us think of continuing medical education, we think of conferences, question banks, and journal articles. But social media is quickly gaining a foothold in this space. A new survey of 250 physicians, conducted by MedData Group, found that about half of all respondents were using social media professionally — and not just to network or advertise their practices. They also reported using social media to keep up with health care news and engage with other clinicians in active discussions about medical care. While many clinicians still consider social media a time-sink, these physicians have found a way to make it work for them as they continue their education in medicine.

Networking and Peer Discussion

Clinicians have a wide range of options open to them for professional use of social media — from general sites like Twitter and LinkedIn to clinician-oriented sites like Doximity and Sermo. Both types can provide a forum to discuss clinical issues and trends, as well as offer tools for networking and connecting to thought leaders or expert researchers.

Paul E. Sax, MD, Clinical Director of the HIV Program and Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says, “I recently discovered Twitter (after several years of simply not getting it) and have found it very fun and educational.”

Here are the most popular social sites directed at clinicians:

  • Doximity is the largest network of physicians and other health care professionals. Stay connected with colleagues, classmates, and co-residents and earn CME credits by reading journals curated for your interests.
  • SERMO is a social network exclusively for doctors. Help peers by sharing and solving challenging cases. Vote in weekly physician polls on current medical issues and health-care trends. Talk with other physicians about real-world medicine, and get paid for your perspective. (Last year, SERMO paid out $16 million USD in honoraria to doctors worldwide.)
  • Medscape Discussion is a physician-only community that provides a private forum where members can ask questions, share perspectives, and gain insights on topics relevant to practicing physicians.
  • Medstro is a social site for clinicians. It hosts NEJM Group Open Forum, an interactive forum of authors, experts, and clinicians that hosts discussions about the intricacies of modern medicine, cutting-edge research, and career development.
  • MomMD is a career site and association for women in medicine. It offers professional and personal resources for female physicians, medical students, and pre-med students.
  • QuantiaMD is a web and mobile community for physicians. Members stay ahead of research and trends by learning from experts and each other through concise, interactive presentation and discussions.

Terry Kind, MD, MPH, Assistant Dean for Clinical Education at George Washington University, is an avid user of social media. When I asked her to explain why, she said, “Social media can extend real-life learning and relationships into a shared space to foster professional growth.”

Continuing Medical Education

The benefits of using social media as a physician extend beyond simply networking and meeting peers online. Clinicians who are active on social media sites report that they learn critical medical information from these sites — and are able to engage directly with both peers and experts to further their learning and interpret how the new information is going to affect their clinical practice.

Dr. Kind explains: “The interactivity allows individual learners to share ideas and questions, and they can even share goals to have accountability partners in the learning and practice improvement process. Social media can break down barriers so that students and educators can connect and interact more easily.”

It might seem counterintuitive that spending time on social media could actually help your career rather than be a waste of time.

Dr. Sax agrees: “After a while, you begin to follow a critical mass of people in your field, and they’re frequently posting and commenting on interesting developments, some of which have direct clinical applicability. Plus, the brevity and rapidity make for very efficient communicating!”

Social Media’s Effect on Your Practice

Of course, continuing your medical education on social media is just one step — taking it to the next level means putting into practice what you’ve learned.

Alex Djuricich, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine and clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine uses social networks online all the time for continuing medical education. He is an avid blogger and Twitter user, and asserts that social media affects his clinical practice: “Undoubtedly, yes, social media has helped me to learn from others about medical education, and about caring for patients. I have learned from other seasoned clinicians, from junior faculty, from residents still in training, as well as from medical students, whose voices are just as powerful in this space as ‘famous’ physicians.” In fact, social media by nature level the playing field, allowing anyone at any level of practice, to ask for advice — and receive immediate responses.

Caring for patients is a privilege, and it falls under a physician’s responsibility to continue their lifelong learning. John Mandrola, MD, practices clinical electrophysiology in Louisville, Kentucky, and blogs at drjohnm.org. A few months ago, he wrote a post for us titled “A Mid-Career Perspective on Lifelong Learning in Medicine,” in which he explored all the ways he keeps up with medical information — and one of the key methods he uses is social media:

One of the niftiest tools I use to keep up-to-date is Twitter. The truth about our digital world is that we all are overwhelmed with information. It is up to us to create our own filters. I have “hired” about 400 people on Twitter to bring me the information that is important to me. I use Twitter to follow medical journals, from the famous ones like the NEJM and JAMA on down to the specialty journals in electrophysiology and even those outside my field. I also follow people: physician leaders like Richard Lehman, scientists like Harlan Krumholz, bloggers (too numerous to count), statisticians (I especially like stats people), journalists, politicians, curators, sports people, and skeptics. The skeptics may be the most important people I follow. I like skeptics because I have learned, especially in clinical science, never be too sure of something.

Medicine is a field that requires you to constantly learn and keep up with the latest developments. If continuing your medical education throughout your career can be achieved through social media, why aren’t more physicians adopting its use?

Share your experience using (or avoiding) social media in the Comments section below.