Worth a 'thumbs up'? Social media platforms hold promise in radiology education

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Media theorist Marshall McLuhan once wrote, “The medium is the message.” Now, in 2017, radiologist educators are using social media platforms to reach learners—and two authors are examining the benefits and constraints offered by media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Social media provides a new opportunity for educators to reach learners,” wrote Saad Ranginwala, MD, and Alexander Towbin, MD, with the department of radiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “With a variety of diverse platforms and a massive user base, social media has the potential to reach and teach greater numbers of individuals than other modes of education. It is important for both educators and learners to be cognizant of the specific advantages and drawbacks of each social media platform to optimize education.”

The article, published online Nov. 1 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, is a part of a recent special issue of JACR focused on social media in healthcare.

Twitter

Ranginwala and Towbin see value in being able to embed video, links and photos in tweets. As the platform has matured, communication has progressed from basic, text-only conversations to ones with plenty of multimedia features.

“We frequently tweet during meetings, interacting with other attendees and promoting presentations delivered by departmental faculty members, fellows, and staff members,” they wrote. “In addition, we use Twitter to promote departmental research, sharing a link to the abstract for each publication.”

The authors also noted Twitter is central to their department’s overall social media channels as information shared on other networks are automatically cross-posted.

Instagram

Instagram is an image-based medium, which is expectedly well-suited to radiology and imaging-related education. The 2,200-character limit on captions and comments provides users the opportunity to engage in in-depth discussions, according to the authors.

Radiology-focused Instagram feeds have found traction, with a number collecting followers in the tens of thousands.

“These feeds use different techniques to teach, including sharing video content, annotating images, and providing quizzes,” wrote Ranginwala and Towbin. “However, even with these differences, most posts share images with focused teaching points in their captions.”

Figure 1

Figure 1 is a social media network similar to Instagram in many ways, with a focus on medical professionals. The audience is smaller but quite engaged.

“Like Instagram, Figure 1 also allows posting of multiple images. However, in addition to separate images, series of images such as an entire series from a CT scan can also be uploaded,” they wrote. “Last, Figure 1 takes specific measures to ensure patient privacy. The app provides built-in consent forms, if necessary, for a given case and automatically detects and censors faces and other types of protected health information.”

Ranginwala and Towbin use the medium to discuss case studies and start conversations while maintaining proper levels of patient information security.

Facebook

The largest social media network, Facebook has more than two billion monthly users. But for medical professionals, the platform is not commonly used. Facebook is more a resource to share content and information with the general public.

“Currently, we use Facebook primarily to share our blog content,” Ranginwala and Towbin wrote. “Facebook is ideal for this, as it allows us to embed a link in a post and share a short overview of the post. Because our posts target families, they are shared by users who follow our page.”

No matter the platform, its audience or intended use, social media must be leveraged in a way that maximizes benefits without sacrificing patient privacy. Education is a noble goal, but one that should not undermine trust in information security.

“Measures should be taken to ensure protection of patient privacy when using social media for educational purposes,” they wrote. “This is particularly true in radiology, in which patient-specific information can be included in an image.”