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Emergency Diagnosis in a Snap


Social media platform Snapchat could be an effective teaching tool for the new generation of radiologists.

Using a mobile device to interpret and diagnose an image is nothing new in radiology. But, using a time-limited social media platform as a teaching tool is – and it has proven to be effective for this next generation of radiologists.

For trainees currently in residency, image-based social media Snapchat is a familiar way to connect and share quickly share pictures. And, now investigators at Louisiana State University (LSU) Health New Orleans School of Medicine have shown it can effectively teach these individuals emergency radiology.

To determine whether this method could work, the team compared how well radiology residents analyzed and interpreted images with Snapchat on their smartphones to their performance when shown similar images on a single screen in a resident conference room. Results of the small pilot study were published on July 30 in Emergency Radiology.

“Radiology residents interpreting emergency cases via Snapchat showed higher accuracy compared with using a traditional classroom screen,” wrote a team led by Bradley Spieler, M.D. vice chairman of research in the LSU radiology department. “Results from this pilot study could facilitate a promising and novel radiologic training method in enhancing recognition of imaging diagnoses, particularly those of life-threatening nature, which could be applied to the evolving landscape of distance learning.”

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Among millennials, Snapchat, which offers video and digital image communication along with text messaging capabilities, is extremely popular. According to existing research, residents in this age group, on average, access the app at last 12 times a day. These features, along with ability for a sender (faculty member) to pre-determine the length of time an image is visible to the receiver (resident) make it an ideal choice for testing a new strategy in radiology didactic techniques, as well as trainee diagnostic performance.

Screen capture of the Snapchat application from the point of view of the attending radiologist, a non-contrast CT of the head showing hyperdense material compatible with blood filling the suprasellar cistern with peripheral extension, consistent with subarachnoid hemorrhage (a). b shows a screenshot of the Snapchat app following clicking of “send photo” from the attending’s point of view, immediately before the image is sent to the radiology resident group. Courtesy: LSU Health; Emergency Radiology

For the four-week study, Spieler’s team presented seven radiology residents – four juniors and three seniors – with five emergent radiologic cases using Snapchat and five similar cases over a classroom projector.

“All cases used were diagnoses considered to require emergent, non-routine communication on the order of minutes to the ordering healthcare provider,” Spieler said. “As such, these types of diagnoses demand prompt imaging recognition as they are considered critical findings which could result in death or significant illness if not acted upon expeditiously.”

Resident performance was scored on a 0-to-2 scale with 0 being a complete miss, 1 being a major finding but missed diagnosis, and 2 being a correct diagnosis. According to the results, all residents performed better with Snapchat during every week of the study. The four-week cumulative score for junior residents was 81 out of 160 via Snapchat and only 63 with the classroom projector. Senior residents scored 88 out of 120 with the app compared to 75 with the classroom projector.

While these findings alone hold interest and promise for radiology education, the team said, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for the incorporation of such innovative teaching methods. Smartphones and other mobile devices are already ubiquitous in hospitals and clinics, and they provide easy, direct access to students and residents. Radiology, as a specialty, has an existing high level of comfortability with technology, and the nearly decade-long familiarity of this generation of residents with Snapchat could facilitate its integration into graduate medical education, the team said.

Although additional larger and more intricate studies are needed to determine the full effect and functionality of using social media platforms like Snapchat in radiology education are necessary, the team said these results point the overall benefit of using these types of technologies.

“Our hope is that this investigation can aid in the promotion of active learning and lecture participation, as well as to explore metrics for gauging diagnostic performance and pattern recognition in image-based curricula both within the classroom and in remote teaching formats,” they said.

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