FOAMed – the pros and cons of sharing medical education information online

FOAMed – the pros and cons of sharing medical education information online

You can get anything online now – next day delivery of pretty much whatever you want. But what about medical education, and the sharing of professional resources to foster international co-operation? Mandy Langfield spoke to experts around the world to find out more about how they view FOAMed – Free, Open Access Medical education – as well as how Covid-19 has changed learning processes.

There has been a considerable growth in recent years in openly accessible and crowd-sourced materials that can be used to supplement and enhance traditional educational methods.

Dr David Denman, writing on Life in the Fast Lane1, believes that although clinical research forms the backbone of medical practice, ‘there is an increasing feeling that our systems of research have not been serving us as well as we think’. Limitations and conflicts of interest are recognized to be a widespread problem in the publication of clinical trial results. “One of the potential solutions,” he said, “is open access publication.” FOAMed could offer a way to fill a gap in ongoing professional development for physicians.

Changing standard operating procedures due to online recommendations

For many air medical and SAR operators, when seeking to change or review practices and standard operating procedures, there are a number of resources that can be utilized while researching best practices among colleagues and peers. Published, peer-reviewed articles used to be the only means of exchanging information. Valuable, for sure, but in many ways, limited.

For Stuart Cox, Specialist Practitioner Critical Care with the UK’s Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance (DSAA), social media and the advent of FOAMed has changed the game for emergency clinicians seeking input from fellow medical professionals. “The so-called ‘grey’ resources,” he told AirMed&Rescue, “while unpublished in a technical sense, can be just as useful as evidence-based research and product literature. You just have to evaluate all the information you are being offered from different sources.”

So, instead, Cox and the team turned to social media for help – specifically, Twitter and Instagram. A quick search for the #airambulance hashtag and some direct messages to the doctors who work onboard the aircraft was all it took – one week later, the team had their solution. “Other users had experienced this same issue, and had found a way around it with a product that couldn’t be identified,” said Cox. “We spoke to operators in Sweden, Norway, Canada and the US, and interestingly, they had all come up with the same solution, which was a product not immediately available in the UK market, but appropriately EN ISO marked.”

It was sourced, presented to the equipment governance committee with appropriate clinical datasheets and its approvals, and the problem was resolved. “Is it a backdoor approach?” asked Cox. “Probably. But it is effective, has improved patient safety and has prevented device failure.” What more could you ask for?

While social media certainly has its detractors and its dangers, it is the willingness of people to be open and share information via social media channels that they might not otherwise be willing or able to on other channels that makes the platform so valuable to pre-hospital physicians. “You can sometimes get caught in a corporate or competitive issue if you go through an organization,” said Cox. “Communicating with other healthcare professionals has yielded different results for us. Healthcare professionals don’t go into healthcare for the money, they get into it to improve patient care, and that, ultimately, is their goal. Before social media, getting access to these people would have been almost impossible,” said Cox. “Even if a manufacturer were to be willing to share client information, one has to be mindful that the client could be biased towards that product or business.”

But all the information and advice must be carefully considered and weighed against all the evidence and accreditation