How The FOAMed Movement Is Revolutionizing Medical Education

FOAMed In Medical Ed

Despite the fact that the internet is now our number one source of information, this endless digital library of data, news, and resources still holds a negative stigma for many in the realm of academics. As a recent college graduate, I can remember most of my professors advising that the majority of what can be found online is considered unreliable, biased, and probably posted by someone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. Online sources were without a doubt not credible, and it was often considered lazy research

Recently, a group of academics and professionals in the medical field have been weakening this stigma with the use of #FOAMed. FOAM, or Free Open Access Meducation, in a nutshell, is an online collection of medical resources, conversations and sharing of information amongst medical experts that can be accessed and contributed to by essentially anyone.

FOAM was first publicly promoted in 2012 by emergency medicine physician Mike Cadogan, because of his colleagues’ Luddite-like resistance to online resources, social media in particular. However, Cadogan, who has experience in writing and publishing educational textbooks as well as his own blog, claims that academia’s transition to open-source online venues is happening naturally, by many experts who have already created blogs, podcasts and twitter profiles based around their specialty field. Cadogan saw the internet as a massive platform for discussion and collaboration that was being overlooked by many of his peers, and he decided to harness the power of the internet to disseminate the collective knowledge of medical professionals who were already online.

FOAM is an extension of this current online presence. Its focus is on peer-to-peer networking and dialogue between medical professionals. Users of #FOAMed value respect that the hashtag be reserved strictly for educational purposes, free of healthcare politics and personal issues.

But even if these codes of conduct are followed, even if a user has the name, title and documented experience needed to lend credibility to their online presence and contributions, the major concern amongst those who oppose FOAM is that none of the research and information being presented is peer-reviewed.

Cadogan addresses this issue by pointing out that academic journals can be just as unreliable and even fraudulent, not to mention skewed and biased, depending on the ideologies of the panel who reviewed it. It’s not uncommon for politics and authority to influence and censor what is academically published.

Advocates of FOAMed have also pointed out that the time-consuming and tedious process of traditional publishing actually creates a  risk of research being irrelevant by time it is finally presented to the public. In contrast, social media, allows information to be put out immediately and discussed in real time. Users can debate, help each other, revise information, and hold each other accountable for false information or mistakes made.

In his article “Social Media and Medicine: Challenges and Opportunities,” pediatrician and author Lawrence Rosen, MD, points out that “the idea of ‘Web 2.0’ … is about interactivity, a back-and-forth conversation. It’s about connection and community, not simply information dumping and diagnosing.”

This idea is as the core of what FOAM is all about. It is about increasing access to medical education and dialogue, allowing all professionals to contribute their knowledge to research, as opposed to the rules being edited and set by a select elite few. It doesn’t degrade the medical community, but offers a new, beneficial way of learning that is beneficial to patient care, medical research, and health outcomes.

Make no mistake: by no means do FOAM supporters want to do away with traditional research, journals and textbooks. They simply want to expand on the tools we already have. With so many innovative and productive means for learning and spreading knowledge that we possess right at our fingertips, it would be counterproductive not to use them to our benefit.

Samantha Hendricks
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