Stephen Maloney: The role of social media in communicating research findings


This blog is part of a series of blogs linked with BMJ Clinical Evidence, a database of systematic overviews of the best available evidence on the effectiveness of commonly used interventions.

I found it interesting to learn that the inspiration behind Twitter was when one of the founders, Jack Dorsey, thought it would be revolutionary to be able to send a text message to one number, and have it broadcast to many. I wonder if he could have envisaged the range of content that Twitter would end up disseminating, from valuable clinical evidence, to what celebrities are considering for breakfast.

From our research we learned that 96% (n=810) of our health professional study participants felt that there was a role for social media in communicating research evidence, and that 80% of participants already used social media for professional purposes. With these overwhelming numbers we felt that there was no more point in looking at the acceptability of social media by health professionals—instead, it was time to focus on investigating how social media can impact on the translation of evidence to practice and on behaviour change.

At the time, we could not locate any published studies that reported an empirical evaluation of the impact and role of social media on translation of health research into practice. This was the catalyst for our investigation to explore the efficacy of social media as an educational medium to effectively translate emerging research evidence into clinical practice.

Outcomes of our trial included a significant shift in clinician attitudes toward social media, increase in knowledge exam results, and the majority of participants reporting a change in their clinical practices. Approximately 70% of the participants reported that receiving the social media posts increased their use of research evidence within their clinical practice.

The use of social media for improving the translation of evidence to practice is certainly not without its problems—however, our traditional methods are problematic also, such as the lag time for the publication process.

Given the expanding costs of medical education and professional development, both to the individual and to employers, I believe there are a number of focus areas for further research in this field. These include investigating the cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit of education practices, along with head to head comparisons of varying approaches available to social media for the translation of clinical evidence to practice.

Stephen Maloney is director of Education for the School of Primary Health Care, Monash University, and a founding member of the Society for Cost and Value in Health Professions Education. Stephen enjoys hearing from academics and clinicians interested in new ways for tackling wicked problems in health professional education and patient care.

Competing interests: None declared.