The evidence base supporting medical practice is growing at an exponential rate, and the time when any one physician could stay abreast of this evidence base has long since passed. Physicians in the primary care field and physicians in data-intensive and rapidly changing specialties such as oncology bear a particularly heavy burden in trying to manage this avalanche of information. Moreover, it is expected that newer forms of medically relevant information (comparative effectiveness research, patient-reported outcomes, personalized genomic and proteomic analyses, etc.) will need to be seamlessly integrated into medical practice.

As a result, within the next five years, the evolution of medicine will face an alarming bottleneck when the systems to support the publication, dissemination, uptake, and integration of new information will likely fail.

Social Learning and CME
Social learning theory has long been explored in the professions of medicine and education. In the past these explorations focused on simple connection derived from training pedigree, geography, and shared memberships in medical societies or associations. But with the emergence of social media, the concepts of social learning can encompass myriad nontraditional connections and uses. It is my hypothesis that docs may use social media in three separate ways:

1. As a means of medical practice—providing direct patient care
2. As a public health communication channel—providing a credible opinion and review of breaking medical news and reports for the public
3. As a means of supporting their own continuing
professional development—providing a learn- ing and decision-making resource based on the collective knowledge of their own network

In October of last year I, along with collaborators from Baylor (@doctor_v), Johns Hopkins (@rsm2800), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (@mwasko), set out to better understand this third definition of the meaningful use of social media—how docs are using social media to share medical information and support their own CPD.

To date, there have been no definitive data sets describing the meaningful use of social media by docs, and therefore no definitive data describing medical professionals’ use of social media for the purpose of continuing professional development.

Stay Tuned for a New Data Set
In recently completed research to be presented at the Medicine 2.0 meeting this fall at Stanford University, we will report for the first time on the meaningful adoption of social media as a professional learning resource. Stay tuned for some hearty buzz around mid-September!

But the new data set is just one facet of our research program. To embrace emerging models of open access and open peer review, we are engaging in a nontraditional data dissemination and publication plan. In a 90-minute panel session at Medicine 2.0, we will present two examples of the types of abstracts and conclusions that can be drawn from the research. But more importantly, prior to the session we will be making the raw data, methodologies, and research instrument publicly available to all participants and available more broadly through other Web-based channels ( and others). It is our hope that this novel publication and presentation model will serve as a case study of how the wisdom and flexibility of the community can drive a more rapid integration of new research into the established knowledge-base and accelerate new research and entrepreneurial activities.

We hope that we can all learn from the data and from the dissemination plans

Brian S. McGowan, PhD, has dedicated the past 12 years to medical education as a faculty member, mentor, accredited provider, and commercial supporter. The opinions expressed are McGowan’s and do not represent the views of his employer, Pfizer Inc. Contact him via Twitter:

More columns by Brian:
Social Media: From Adopting to Using

The Alliance Goes Social
Getting Started with Social Media