Medium ≠ Message

If you read one thing printed on real paper this week, make it this letter (1), followed by this response. (2)

(OK, you don’t actually have to print it on real paper, but know that it is, in fact, available printed on paper in the leading medical education journal. Or you can just point and click. For free.)

The rapid expansion of free, open-access medical edutainment has led us headlong into debate. To sum up the discussion, these two letters to the editor refer to a previously-published article by Mike Mallin, an emergency physician and EM educator in Utah, and colleagues surveying the use by EM residents of asynchronous education resources, which they define as “a student-centered modality of teaching which involves sharing online learning resources and promotes peer-to-peer interactions,” and which includes podcasts, blogs and other online shareable media. (3) Known collectively/colloquially as FOAMed (Free Open-Access Meducation), these resources are now part and parcel of many EM training programs, able to be consumed at one’s own pace, on one’s own time.

Pescatore and colleagues, in their letter to the editor, worry aloud that the messages trumpeted via asynchronous resources are at risk of being interpreted as gospel truth by unsuspecting consumers without critical consideration of their merits. Particularly susceptible to this, they argue, are the most popular of these resources and the most junior of consumers. They cite a discussion about treatment of infant bronchiolitis on an episode of the EM:RAP podcast wherein a popular contributor to that podcast made a treatment recommendation that is not supported by – and may be frankly frowned upon – by national societies in pediatrics (and which, in fact, may have been dangerous). If taken as truth rather than opinion – a real risk when impressionable listeners are swayed by the near-celebrities on popular sites – this may lead to an increase in an arguably unsafe practice. Continue reading