Social Media Continues to Reshape Medical Meetings

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twitter-bigWhile thousands of emergency physicians gathered in Chicago for the 2014 ACEP Scientific Assembly, 2100 Twitter users shared almost 17,000 tweets. From sharing educational pearls to laughing about entertaining speakers, social media is radically reshaping how physicians participate in medical conferences.

While thousands of emergency physicians gathered in Chicago for the 2014 ACEP Scientific Assembly, 2100 Twitter users shared almost 17,000 tweets [1]. As a tool for discussion and discovery, these users shared educational pearls, literature citations, asynchronous educational resources, real-time feedback, and entertaining speaker quotes.

A recent article in Annals of Emergency Medicine defined social media as “any internet-based application that enables content sharing and rapid interactions between large populations [2].” The use of blogs, podcasts, and services like Twitter, and Google Hangouts is transforming graduate medical education and continuing medical education alike [2,3]. Potentials pitfalls of social media’s use in education have been identified, namely in maintaining a high level of professional communication and adhering to patient privacy2. Stopping the discussion at the implications on professionalism however, limits social media’s application and development as an educational tool.

Through the power of social media, the ACEP Scientific Assembly had truly global reach. Emergency physicians from Canada to Australia discussed and interacted with those in Chicago at the tap of a finger.

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Thomas Dolven, MD (@thomas1973) live tweeting from Norway during the 2014 ACEP Scientific Assembly

In comparison to the 2013 ACEP Scientific Assembly, there were more than 700 additional users, resulting in approximately 5,500 more tweets at this year’s event [1]. Does this expansion of use provide any additional benefit to the tweeter or those in attendance?

Allen Roberts, AKA GruntDoc, is a former Marine and current community EP, and was 2014 ACEP Scientific Assembly’s top tweeter [1]. The hard count: GruntDoc tweeted 878 times over the course of the conference, and mentioned in another 1,050 tweets by other users1. He states the value of sharing using social media benefits himself, and provides a great level of interaction; “…it keeps me keenly focused on the lecture and not checking my email or other, lesser, types of social media… I find Twitter lurkers who follow me (and others who tweet conferences) interact much more than [would without it], and ask questions, extending the reach of the conference. Plus, I enjoy it, and I’d do it if nobody followed (but it’s flattering so many do).” The goal is simple, to use social media is to reach out to those at a distance, and to inspire discussion and consensus.

Beyond the 140 character-limit Twitter, what other examples of social media can transform conferences?

Daily conference review podcasts, like those of [4], provided in depth analysis of preconference ACEP policy meetings to highlights of daily educational sessions. The focus for many emergency physician educators creating this type of content, is to use social media as a tool for discussion, dissemination, and discovery.

On a local level, social media is shaping emergency medicine residency conferences and didactic sessions [2,3]. More than 60 emergency medicine programs have official Twitter handles whose aim is to share didactic pearls and highlight educational products in use within their residency program [2]. In addition to residency programs sharing via social media, individual residents are encouraged to tweet speaker feedback, educational pearls, and asynchronous resources to further the educational content at their respective institutions.

How do users stumble through and organize the vast amount of information that streams through their Twitter feeds? Hashtags (#) provide users with searchable labels that give context to the content of a tweet. #EMConf is one such hashtag that allows users to receive educational content from emergency medicine residencies across the United States and Canada – The idea is to not simply limit didactic education to what’s in the residents’ conference room, but see what great educational content is coming out globally.

Taken to an ultimate expression, can social media be the foundation for a medical conference?

Social Media and Critical Care (SMACC) was born out of the FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation) concept, “to provide a common forum for critical care practitioners and to provide the best academic content in an innovative and engaging format [5].” The first SMACC conference in Sydney, Australia in March of 2013 and was the result of social media-facilitated collaboration between multiple internationally recognized emergency medicine and critical care websites and blogs. Seven-hundred conference attendees in 2013 blossomed into 1300 the following year [5]. Thousands more enjoyed the benefit of live-Tweeting and social media shared materials. For the first time, the SMACC conference will take place on United States soil. Attendees will enjoy Chicago in June of 2015. 

Going beyond the impact of social media on the physical conference, how is social media impacting education as a whole?

Perhaps more than any other educational tool before it, social media has expanded upon the way learners share, and inspire, on a global level. At it’s most basic level, social media should be thought of as a method for democratization of learning. A method for ‘upward’ communication with experts in the field, and ‘outward’ communication to peers. Despite the potential for ‘top-down’ dissemination of information from educational or popular leaders in the field, it has profound functionality as a community of dialogue, destroying hierarchical status. By driving the conversation towards their needs, learners provide educators with additional information on what is needed for successful learning to take place.

How do you start utilizing social media in educational settings or otherwise? Sign-up, login, and start seeing what’s out there. Follow some of the established medical leaders in emergency medicine – check out @klinelab, @emcrit – or follow the 25 people that @FOAMstarter is following. Use the power of the hashtag (start with #EMConf, and #FOAMed). Once the comfort of consumption sets in, jump in with comments and creation of your own. GruntDoc starts out simply; “Hear the important thing [the speaker]is trying to get across, make a suitable paraphrase, and tweet it… it does help me digest the message…”

Social media has, and will continue, to expand upon the value of the medical conferences. There is effort involved in sifting through what is being shared via social media, especially on Twitter, where feeds often include difficult to decipher comments, abbreviations, and corporate advertisements. The value in that effort is already having an impact, and those that aren’t already using social media as a tool, can hopefully be inspired to explore its potential for themselves. Expand the way you learn. Be apart of the discussion, and engage with the world.

Special thank you to Dr. Allen Roberts (@GruntDoc) for agreeing to be interviewed for this project. Visit his website


Michael T Paddock, DO, MS (@mikepaddock) is a medical education fellow at the University of Chicago

1. #ACEP14 Analytics, 2014 <>
2. Scott KR, Hsu CH, Johnson NJ, Mamtani M, Conlon LW, DeRoos FJ. Integration of social media in emergency medicine residency curriculum. Ann Emerg Med. 2014 Oct;64(4):396-404. <>
3. Mallin M, Schlein S, Doctor S, Stroud S, Dawson M, Fix M. A survey of the current utilization of asynchronous education among emergency medicine residents in the United States. Acad Med J Assoc Am Med Coll. 2014;89:598-601. <>
4. FOAMcastini, ACEP Round Up, 2014 <>
5. SMACC, How We’re Different, 2014 <>

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