Call to Action: 6 Reasons to Promote FOAM and Social Media in Medicine

Edward Lew

Edward Lew , MD

Emergency Physician, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Published April 19, 2016

If you want to know how we practiced medicine 5 years ago, read a textbook.

If you want to know how we practiced medicine 2 years ago, read a journal.
If you want to know how we practice medicine now, go to a (good) conference.
If you want to know how we will practice medicine in the future, listen in the hallways and use FOAM.
— from "International EM Education Efforts & E-Learning" by Joe Lex, 2012

As healthcare providers, we are charged with staying on the cusp of medical education — hopefully utilizing the best in evidence-based medicine. Many times, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

We recognize that much of what we have learned in medical school is out of date. More so, what we have practiced in residency has also changed — or worse, may not have any evidence behind it.

Is the answer to wait for the next conference? Or perhaps in next month’s issue of your favorite journal? If your usual information sources aren't providing the answers, I propose an alternate solution: Free Open-Access Medical Education (FOAM).

FOAM Demystified

On the most literal level, FOAM is a collection of readily accessible, educational online resources. It consists of blogs, podcasts, tweets, Google hangouts, online videos, text documents, photographs, Facebook groups, and much more. It is virtual knowledge. It is virtual experience. And it is shared openly with everyone.

FOAM can also be considered a community of learners. Members are dedicated to advancing medical knowledge by freely sharing resources and experiences. Participation is open to all, regardless of geographic location, position, and credentials. Many of these professionals see FOAM as an expression of their personal mission to help not only patients, but also other providers.

Chances are you are already using FOAM. If you’ve watched a YouTube video on the latest shoulder dislocation reduction technique, you’ve used FOAM. If you’ve Googled a Wells' Score calculator, that’s FOAM too. Have you read a blog about repairing a complicated laceration? FOAM.


I am proud of Vituity's robust CME program (with a special nod to our CME podcasts and recorded lectures). But I also believe that we should lead the FOAM movement by sharing the lessons learned in our collective practice with other practitioners across the globe. Likewise, we should constantly seek out ideas and innovations that can enhance our own practice. So I am thrilled to say that beginning this year Vituity will highlight FOAM at its four annual conferences.

Here are just a few of the ways that FOAM can benefit healthcare organizations like ours:

1. Promote lifelong learning. FOAM was created to augment, not replace, traditional forms of medical education. Let's say a physician assistant listens to a CME podcast on difficult airways. The information is great, but she has some questions about how she might apply it to a specific case or patient. She tweets these to the author and includes a few of her favorite hashtags (labels beginning with # that are used to sort social media conversations). She receives replies not only from the author but also from fellow professionals, including one in Australia. Fifteen minutes later, she closes her laptop or locks her iPhone, feeling more confident in her ability to apply these new principles.

Traditional learning tends to be synchronous, meaning it's a one-time communication delivered to a group of people. Social media interaction allows for asynchronous learning in which learners access knowledge on demand and tailor it to their needs. It's an efficient way for us to close gaps in our knowledge and deepen our clinical understanding on a given subject.

2. Build your brand. Participating in the FOAM community can help to establish you as a thought leader, educator, and an advocate for patients and the profession. Members can build a following through positive interactions and by creating and sharing high-quality content.

3. Honor diverse learning styles. As the physician shortage deepens, it's imperative that we attract Millennial professionals to our practices. Many of them consider FOAM a fundamental tool of the trade. Residents are increasingly using FOAM to share knowledge among themselves, and residencies are seeking to incorporate FOAM into their curricula. Organizations that embrace FOAM — and indeed invite Millennials to lead its integration — will likely have a recruiting advantage in coming years.

4. Improve medical education. What information are learners seeking via FOAM? The answers are illuminating curricular gaps in medical school, GME, and CME in ways never before possible.

5. Get more out of conferences. Social media has reshaped the way people at conferences interact and learn. Confused during a lecture or education session? You may be able to tweet questions directly to the speaker. Can't decide which session to attend? Pick one and catch the video recap of the others. Some participants engage in "live tweeting" during lectures so that professionals around the world can benefit from the content.

6. Strengthen our professional community. FOAM breaks down the barriers between professionals. It allows us to interact with the best minds in your field without attending a conference or enrolling at an exclusive training program. And its especially useful for professionals in developing countries who otherwise might have trouble accessing the latest evidence and practices.

Diving In

The sheer volume of information available via FOAM can be overwhelming at first. Social media platforms, specifically Twitter, are great places to begin.

A good first step is to join the conversation. Some hashtags to get you started:
  • #FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation)
  • #FOAMcc (critical care)
  • #FOAMim (internal medicine, hospital medicine)
  • #FOAM4GP (primary care)
  • #FOAMped (pediatrics)
  • #FOAN (nursing)

Share your own ideas, or simply read through the feed. You'll likely see names you recognize, including some of the specialty's most respected educators. You can ask anyone anything without stepping foot at a cross-country conference.

Medical knowledge races forward at a frantic pace. Our education must not be stagnant. Millennials expect interaction — this is how they are trained. We must adapt.

I encourage you to join the conversation that is happening around you. Don’t wait, take control. Engage with it. Tweet it. If you like, you can start with me at @elewMD.

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