FOAM: Crowd Sourcing Medical Information

by from Medelita | Thursday, Sep 17, 2015

FOAM (Free Open Access Meducation) is a radical departure from how practitioners across the globe have traditionally accessed medical information. It is a philosophy, a movement, and a community—FOAM is as fluid of a concept as the constantly evolving medical knowledge it strives to make accessible. A solitary platform, a singular application, or any one contributor can’t define it because the very idea of FOAM is limitless and its nature is highly interactive.  

Simply put, FOAM can be described as a collection of medical resources that are constantly being shared and updated on the web so that medical information can be accessed anytime, anywhere, by anyone.

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Image courtesy of naypong at freedigitalphotos.net

Even as a millennial, I found the concept of FOAM difficult to grasp at first. For those who believe in a more traditional approach to medical education, FOAM can be downright unsettling for a number of reasons. But as social media continues to pervade healthcareand younger generations are entering the medical workforce, this movement may very well pave the way for how we perceive, access, and practice medicine.  

“If you want to know how we practiced medicine 5 years ago, read a textbook. If you want to know how we practiced medicine 2 years ago, read a journal. If you want to know how we practice medicine now, go to a (good) conference. If you want to know how we will practice medicine in the future, listen in the hallways and use FOAM.” – Joe Lex, “International EM Education Efforts & E-Learning

Pros Of FOAM:

Easy Access

The very concept of FOAM means that it is freely accessible to all, rather than limited to print sources that must be purchased and can only be updated through revised editions. It is also globally accessible, which is significant in bridging the knowledge gaps between medical professionals in different areas of the world. FOAM is discussed in six languages, 24 countries, and over 230 blogs and podcasts. It can be found on numerous Facebook pages and is constantly trending as a Twitter hashtag (#FOAMed).

Collaborative Nature

FOAM allows medical professionals to get engaged and involved in conversations about healthcare. A large amount of medical conversations are happening on social media platforms such as Twitter, where the #FOAMed hashtag had almost 900 million impressions in 2014 alone. The online dialogues surrounding this movement have allowed important topics in medicine to be openly discussed over the course of days, weeks or months—rather than hashed out over the course of years, as with traditional academic discourse.

Peer-to-Peer

While FOAM content is not peer-reviewed in the conventional sense as with medical textbooks or journals, these discussions are separate from patient education and communication. FOAM is distinct in that it is focused on connecting medical professionals in a peer-to-peer network. Further, there are many FOAM podcasts and blogsthat are regularly updated with reliable, credible information. Overall, the movement has been extremely successful in connecting medical professionals with relevant information, generating discussion, and allowing users to broaden their perspectives on medicine.

Supplementing Education

Medical knowledge is constantly evolving, and those who work in healthcare must stay abreast of new findings within their field. Many researchers and academics are moving toward the Internet as an arena to discuss and share their findings because web pages and blogs can be much more easily updated than textbooks as medical research and knowledge continues to evolve. FOAM creates a unique way for healthcare professionals to embrace continuing education in their field. Some have even projected FOAM as setting a standard for future medical education by “flipping the classroom”, in which medical students would prepare for class by studying video lectures online. In this way, time spent within courses could be shifted from lecturing about knowledge to discussing the material that was assigned, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the topics and information.