Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

October 6, 2015

Perspective on Social Media and Its Relation to Medical Research

By Elizabeth Zimmermann


Damian Baalmann, M.D. (@dball86) is a Resident in emergency medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

SocialMedia_MCCNRecently there has been a large uptake in dissemination of medical knowledge and information through social media.[1] The potential reaches of social media are vast as demonstrated by the critical care and emergency medicine resources with venues such as Life in the Fast Lane gathering around 6 million unique visitors per year.[2] Hence social media is an emerging field of scholarship that has the potential to enhance patient care, medical knowledge, and practice based-improvement. Social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks[3]. There is an unprecedented potential for knowledge exchange and collaboration through social media. This blog post will attempt to explore the strengths and weakness of social media and its relation to medical research by expanding research networks and disseminating information.

Expanding Research Networks and Dissemination of Information

Expanding research networks would appear to be the main strength of social media. The impact of social media in dissemination of primary research articles was attempted to be studied in a recent randomized control trial published in Circulation.[4] In this study, 243 articles were either randomized into a social media arm or into a control arm and basically they noted no difference in 30-day page views. While the article is commendable for addressing and researching this topic, it was criticized for methodological issues including, among others, a poor social media promotional plan. Research done by Hoang et al published in the Journal of American College of Radiology demonstrated that with a more aggressive social media promotional plan, articles promoted in social media were noted to have page views 14 and 11 times greater than scientific articles on the same topic.[5] The take-home message from these two articles and others is that expanding research networks and dissemination of information is strength of social media medical education if done correctly.

As medical professionals, we both learn because we must and because we are curious. We must learn to provide appropriate, up-to-date patient care by identifying and managing pathology utilizing safe, evidence based methods. We also learn because we are curious about new, innovative approaches, ideas, and advances in medicine. The medical professional can be seen as a cartographer who learns pieces of information and maps and networks information that he or she obtains. The cartographer is different from other cartographers and has his or her own context of maps and information. One of the strengths of social media in respect to dissemination of information and learning is that it meets the learner at his or her own context and provides different resources and mediums for the different learners. This allows the learner to grow and map out information based on their own context and needs.[6] Additionally, the appearance of the successful learner is not one who can just spew back information without understanding it and is not one who determines limits for other learners but rather one who can create and gather information and do so seamlessly.[7] This is another strength of social media in medical research is that it provides mechanisms to allow innovation and freedom of thought. In contrast to traditional mechanisms, there exists more discussion of ideas without absolutes.

Despite the strengths of social media, there are some concerns and weakness of social media and medical research in regards to dissemination of information that will be addressed here. Traditional dissemination of information for research occurs through a peer-review process usually through journal or conference venues and furthermore undergoes individual analysis through formal mechanisms such as JAMA’s Appraising Evidence. At this point, no formal, well-publicized mechanisms exist for appraisal of information that is widely disseminated through social media. This is also where one of the strengths of social media of more discussion can become a weakness when the learner does not take the time or is not experienced in a particular subject and falls short and embraces/rejects something inappropriately. However, many of the mechanisms of appraisal and criticism of research can be carried from traditional mechanisms of dissemination of information to social media. As Roland and Brazil state, ‘the principles are the same, but the tools are not’.[8] Another of weakness of social media regarding dissemination of information is that there exists a tendency for social media to rally around attractive topics and abstain from core topics. This can be overcome by the recognition that social media is a medium, not a curriculum and that social media is one mechanism to disseminate information.[8]

Additional Information

For more on social media and its relation to medical education, click here.

Check out the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media for tips and training relating to applications of social media in health care.


  1. Grundlingh, J., T. Harris, and S. Carley, FOAM: the internet, social media, and medical education. Emergency medicine journal : EMJ, 2013(S10): p. 2-4.
  2. Cadogan, M., et al., Free Open Access Meducation (FOAM): the rise of emergency medicine and critical care blogs and podcasts (2002-2013). Emergency medicine journal : EMJ, 2014. 31(e1): p. e76-7.
  3. Contributors, W. Social Media. 5 September 2015 12:56 UTC; Available from:
  4. Fox, C.S., et al., A randomized trial of social media from Circulation. Circulation, 2015. 131(1): p. 28-33.
  5. Hoang, J.K., et al., Using Social Media to Share Your Radiology Research: How Effective Is a Blog Post? J Am Coll Radiol, 2015. 12(7): p. 760-5.
  6. Sherbino, J. and J.R. Frank, @SirBill: the power of social media to transform medical education. Postgrad Med J, 2014. 90(1068): p. 545-6.
  7. Cormier, D. Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system? 22 October 2011 08 September 2015]. Read article.
  8. Roland, D. and V. Brazil, Top 10 ways to reconcile social media and 'traditional' education in emergency care. Emerg Med J, 2015. 32(10): p. 819-22.


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