CME has lagged far behind other areas of medicine, patient advocacy, and industry in its use of social media. 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. And, though 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.

Though the late adoption of social media technologies by CME professionals is disappointing, it is understandable. Without clear examples of how social media can be used effectively, there are few evidence-based best practices. And for a community that is driven to promote and support evidence-based practice, this can seem to be a paralyzing disconnect. Moreover, in a community that has been struggling for the past five to 10 years to stay on top of ever-changing compliance practices and documentation requirements, social media may seem like a risk not worth taking. However, if effectively adopted, social media could ignite the revolutionary advances in the CME community that many internal and external critics have been demanding.

Social media technologies are perfectly suited to reinforce the three principal needs of the CME community:
1. Supporting CME activities, initiatives, and healthcare professional learning—The broader medical community is already using social media. In fact, 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. By delaying adoption of social media, we are doing nothing to stop information-seeking HCPs from relying on less credible and less regulated sources of medical information.

2. Supporting the career development of CME professionals—The learning and quality-improvement communities outside of CME are actively engaging in social media, and there are hundreds of resources (blogs, online communities, Web chats) that are broadcast through the Twitter stream each day. By delaying adoption of social media, we are ignoring readily available best practices used by other forms of adult education and delaying vitally needed personal development and professional transformations.

3. Amplifying the voice of CME advocacy—In its simplest form, social media technologies constitute a unique set of dissemination channels. As outcomes and assessment data are published, as stories of the benefits and value of CME are crafted, and 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. By ignoring social media, the CME community is missing 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.

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: @cmeadvocate.

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