Social Media and Journal Clubs: The Ultimate Peer Review?

An oncologist weighs in

By Aaron Gerds, MD

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The Cotton Club, The Breakfast Club and journal club. Like other legendary clubs, journal club has centered around an in-person gathering to facilitate the exchange of commentary and ideas on a given topic. The critical evaluation of recent articles conducted in journal clubs serves as a building block for medical education, evidence-based guidelines and quality improvement initiatives. From residency training, I have very vivid — dare I say fond? — memories of journal club at Hines VA Hospital getting into the nitty gritty of numbers needed to treat with then Chairman Brian Schmitt, MD, MPH. For the past 180 years, from Sir James Paget to Gordon Guyatt, MD, MSc, journal clubs have been steadfast with a very gradual evolution, but the technology revolution is shaking things up.

Social media, including Twitter, has changed the way we communicate. In addition to focused composition and the introduction of emoji, it has also eliminated distance and time. Discussions including thousands can be had instantly across the globe. It has been argued that social media has dumbed down discourse, reducing it to a series of likes or retweets. Despite its limitations, it can be a powerful tool in the appraisal of the medical literature.

With most manuscripts posted on publishers’ websites well in advance of print, the peer review process can occur almost instantaneously. Social media also enables the readership to interact directly with the authors.

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With such a large volume of users, critiques presented and validated are essentially crowdsourced, and conversely, individuals can provide insight on how local context may affect the application of results in their own practice. Social media invites its users to come off the bench and get into the game, identifying quality and refuting misinterpretation by a simple post for many, with others taking the next step into content creation. One key element yet to be clarified as things move forward is how these contributions will be measured and how faculty will get academic credit for participating in online forums.

While time will tell if Twitter and social media are the ultimate peer review, it is clear that they can be a powerful tool in conducting academic medicine. I wonder if William Osler would share his critiques in 280 characters or less.

Dr. Gerds is a staff physician in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and publishes in medical literature about social media use. Follow him on Twitter @AaronGerds.

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