The enhanced immediacy, peer-to-peer interaction and networking capabilities of social media platforms, particularly newer vehicles such as Instagram and TikTok, may help reinvent educational models in radiology.
Over the past several years, radiology has adapted to new technologies and modalities to enhance both the effectiveness and accessibility of medical education. For example, flipped classroom techniques and educational gaming applications have emerged as creative methods to deliver interactive radiology content. However, social media remains an underutilized space that is filled with potential to serve as a remote learning tool for teaching trainees and medical students.
As an image-based specialty, radiology stands to gain the most from educational trends encouraging quick presentation, processing, and response. In the past two decades, radiology has adopted these platforms for a variety of uses including but not limited to networking with colleagues and students around the world, sharing interesting patient cases, and responding to immediate trends within the field. However, there are several opportunities to expand the role of social media platforms in medical education.
For most of this time, Twitter and Facebook have been the primary social media platforms to engage trainees and medical students online, representing “Social Media 1.0.” In contrast, “Social Media 2.0” reflects a shift in the virtual landscape in which didactic vehicles are sought after to engage viewers in more visually oriented ways. This is particularly the case with platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
Accordingly, let us take a closer look at this evolution and outline both current and future uses for social media platforms in radiology medical education.
Social Media 1.0
Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms for professional networking and education in radiology. Online learning through Twitter is continuous and personalized for users to engage in self-improvement, networking, shared cases, and journal clubs. Jaffe and colleagues summarized the primary ways Twitter is and can be used in medical education.1 Educators can share discrete concepts or facts through a basic tweet, or they can link tweets sequentially using images, polling, or reference links to create a lesson. Posing clinical questions or sharing links to case reports and studies can prompt conversation and discussion in real-time.
In another intriguing use case with the University of Chicago Internal Medicine Residency Program, Bergl and colleagues evaluated a chief resident-controlled Twitter account that aimed to advance its program’s educational mission.2 These authors found that 69 percent of 61 residents believed that their overall education was enhanced from tweets related to the teaching points from morning reports, pathology from interesting cases, and educational radiographs/scans.
Twitter can facilitate discussion and engagement between radiologists, residents, and medical students across the country as well. Interestingly, Kauffman and colleagues found that the most engaging radiology content on Twitter are case images and scroll-through videos while news links received the fewest engagement in terms of retweets and likes.3 For radiology, this finding may signal the need to shift our focus toward establishing a larger presence on alternative platforms.
Radiology has a well-established presence on Facebook. Facebook serves both as a marketing and branding tool for radiologists and their practices/organizations. Groups on Facebook, such as Radiology Chicks and Breast Imaging Radiologists, have long been active as a community hub for radiologists to share meaningful cases or discuss broader trends in practice, technology, and education. Similarly, groups related to specific diseases such as breast cancer or patient support groups exist for radiologists to communicate directly with patients and share high-quality information. Similar to Twitter, Facebook groups have also been used to foster learning opportunities between medical students, radiology residents, and practicing physicians. The ability of those in radiology to utilize social media effectively is clear, but Twitter and Facebook only represent the beginning stages of a broader campaign to raise awareness, highlight the field, and innovate medical education.
Social Media 2.0
Instagram, on the other hand, primarily delivers content through images and videos with captions, making it particularly well-suited for radiology. Currently, there are several high-volume accounts, such as @radiopaedia and @thexraydoctor, that promote radiology educational material. Shafer and colleagues demonstrated the potential effectiveness of Instagram as a vehicle for radiology education through their Instagram account, CTisus.4 In under two years, their consistent and diverse catalogue of posts has generated meaningful engagement as the account has accumulated over 6,000 followers, and they have reached an international audience. Notably, the majority of their followers are 25 to 34 years old, which represents the age of the vast majority of medical students and radiology residents.
During the 2020 National Residency Match Program (NRMP) application cycle, Johnson and colleagues found that radiology residency programs were most active on Instagram (58.9 percent) compared to Twitter (29.3 percent) or Facebook (29.55 percent).5 Given this interest and level of engagement, the utilization of image-based platforms to reach medical students interested in radiology, residents, and the general public should be pursued.
While Instagram is primarily suited for image- and video-based delivery, TikTok’s content form is exclusively video. TikTok is the latest addition to the suite of social media platforms and has appeared to gain a large amount of platform users throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary use case on TikTok is not for education, but neither were Twitter or Facebook in their early development. The novelty of TikTok is an opportunity for the field of radiology to find a footing in the social media environment of the 2020s and generate both educational and creative radiology content that can be widely disseminated.
Similar to Instagram and Twitter, TikTok content is received by “followers” of an account. However, unlike any other social media platform, TikTok users frequently spend time on the app on their “For You” page, a curated, endless series of posts displaying personalized content. Thus, TikTok may allow for radiology content to be shared without limits, increasing interest and engagement with the field.
Diversifying the platforms in which case studies, articles, and other educational material are shared should be encouraged as our understanding and use of novel modalities matures. Ultimately, Social Media 2.0 offers compelling platforms that may serve as supplementary means to promote the field of radiology.
Benefits of Adopting a Novel Social Media Strategy
The opportunity for a stronger radiology presence on social media is clear, and the field is uniquely situated to integrate image-rich platforms into the education of trainees and medical students. As radiology residency programs seek ways to innovate their educational curriculums, emerging platforms can be used to offer students increased flexibility and convenience. Social Media 2.0 can serve as a conduit through which residents and faculty may expose radiology to and engage with medical students.
Active learning and peer-to-peer interaction are key concepts that are integral to social media use in radiology medical education. By “following” radiology accounts that use images and share relevant cases, learners seek out the material that provides the highest value and a means of interacting with fellow students or trainees as well as faculty members. This can ultimately promote collegiality throughout all levels of training.
Importantly, these interactions are not limited to people within an institution or within a specialty as social media can expand opportunities for networking and collaboration. Furthermore, unlike in-person lectures at any institution, these radiology posts and threads remain visible for current and future students and physicians internationally, dissolving geographic boundaries.
Finally, Social Media 2.0 is live and responsive to immediate trends, and image-rich platforms enable innovation in radiology and compelling insights to be shared and discussed in real time. Social Media 2.0 is already in its early stages. With sufficient investment, radiologists can seize this period to increase awareness about the field, enhance collaboration and engagement, and augment medical education for trainees and students more effectively than ever before.
1. Jaffe RC, O'Glasser AY, Brooks M, Chapman M, Breu AC, Wray CM. Your @Attending will #tweet you now: using Twitter in medical education. Acad Med. 2020;95(10):1618. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003314. PMID: 32195691.
2. Bergl PA, Narang A, Arora VM. Maintaining a Twitter feed to advance an internal medicine residency program's educational mission. JMIR Med Educ. 2015;1(2):e5. doi:10.2196/mededu.4434
3. Kauffman L, Weisberg EM, Zember WF, Fishman EK. #RadEd: how and why to use Twitter for online radiology education. Curr Probl Diagn Radiol. 2021 May-Jun;50(3):369-373.
4. Shafer S, Johnson MB, Thomas RB, Johnson PT, Fishman EK. Instagram as a vehicle for education: what radiology educators need to know. Acad Radiol. 2018;25(6):819-822.
5. Johnson JL, Bhatia N, West DL, Safdar NM. Leveraging social media and web presence to discuss and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in radiology. J Am Coll Radiol. 2022;19(1 Pt B):207-212.