Some in the continuing medical education community have rushed to jump on the social media bandwagon, claiming that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media will help CME achieve new heights in physician knowledge and performance.
But let’s face facts. Tweets don’t teach. At best, they are quick quips—interesting tidbits without much substance. And, other than being a place to advertise CME activities to healthcare professionals, CME providers aren’t hitting pay dirt on Facebook, either.

A book published in May puts social media in perspective. In The Face-to-Face Book, authors Ed Keller and Brad Fay share highlights from more than six years of research on social media, word-of-mouth communication, and analysis of more than 2 million conversations.

Their findings:

  • 75 percent of conversations in the U.S. still happen face to face; fewer than 10 percent take place on the Internet.
  • Compared to online interactions, face-to-face conversations tend to be more positive and more likely to be perceived as credible.
  • While social media has led to a decline in e-mail conversations, it has not reduced face-to-face interaction.
  • A 2009 study showed that only 9 percents of Tweets had “pass-along value”; 40 percent were classified as “pointless babble.”

Facebook may be great for reconnecting with old high school or college friends, but lasting change comes from human-to-human connection and interaction, write Keller and Fay.
Like the California Gold Rush that made a few millionaires but left most folks empty-handed, the social media frenzy, for the most part, hasn’t panned out for CME.

This isn’t to say that the Web has been a bad thing for healthcare continuing education. Developers of CME have made some excellent uses of live and archived Internet formats. But don’t make the same mistake as Marshall McLuhan, the 1960s author of Understanding Media, the best-selling book that ignored the content of human communication and pronounced, “The medium is the message.” In other words, forget what is on TV; it’s the actual TV that is the message.

In a world where more people than ever live alone and our time for real interaction is limited, social media has a role in connecting physicians, educators, and patients. But the art of medicine still depends on a physician’s ability to blend science with logic and human communication.

Learning requires actual connection. And instead of distilling valuable information, social media sites that promote message quantity over quality are a distraction.

The next time you see physicians tweeting during a CME activity, be warned: They may be more focused on being witty in fewer than 140 characters than on taking in the education right in front of them.

Stephen M. Lewis, MA, CCMEP, is president of Colorado-based Global Education Group. Reach him at

More of Stephen's Columns:

The One-Word Future of CME

AMA Logic Harms Medicine

As Goes Healthcare, So Goes CME

Welcome to the CME Business

Ringing In a New Era for CME

REMS: A New Trajectory for CME?