Potential impact of social media on global radiology education

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Social media is a fascinating virtual world where people meet, interact, and share their thoughts. According to most recent estimates, Facebook had 1.44 billion monthly active users and Twitter had 320 million. And it just keeps on growing.

Although primarily a social and communication tool, social media has tremendous potential for health care professionals, including radiologists. This powerful communications vehicle is presently underutilized with regard to global medical education. Requiring only minimal human and financial resources, social media instantly connects users with a large population over a broad geographic area. It allows users to share and discuss topics, and it is easy to reach out to a variety of audiences.

There have been a few efforts toward meaningful utilization of social media for radiology education. One such program is CTisus.com, founded by Elliot K. Fishman, MD, FACR, professor of radiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The Facebook page of CTisus has over 79,000 followers, and interesting cases and imaging pearls are regularly posted on the page. The incredibly famous radiology education website Radiopaedia.org has over 435,000 followers on Facebook, and the teaching is more interactive on this platform. In addition to pages, there are numerous groups focusing on radiology education, where radiologists from all over the world come together and discuss cases and ideas. Some of the most popular include RadioDiagnosis, Radiology Resident Club, and Radiology Golden Points and MCQs. Facebook’s commenting features lead to interactive discussion and even live lectures.

In countries where resources are limited, internet access is becoming available to more number of people, especially on mobile devices. Social media can have a potentially huge impact in these settings, given the ease of use and minimal cost involved, especially when compared to traditional media. While in the past, sharing information was expensive, had limited outreach, and was frequently a non-interactive, one-way communication channel.

With these new digital tools, formal specialty and subspecialty training programs can be formulated and promoted using social media. This is critical in areas where specialty training programs are scarce and poorly structured. Africa, for example, does not have any subspecialty radiology training programs in the entire continent. Here, social media can play a big role in building and disseminating educational curriculum by established institutions in the U.S. and other advanced countries. Almost every major health institution and radiology department in the U.S. is increasing its social media presence, using Twitter and Facebook. This has opened new avenues to communicate with patients and peers around the world.

Social media is, however, not without its issues. Loose regulation over posted content, easy impersonation, minimal copyright protections, and decreased personal space are possible deterrents to educators using social media. The ever-changing privacy policies are another problem. Nonetheless, social media represents a tremendous opportunity to propagate and enhance global radiology education. Educators around the world should embrace it.

By Vibhor Wadhwa, MD (@wadhwa_rad), PGY1 radiology intern at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark.

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