Teresa Chan: Qualitative Study of Scientists’ Perceptions of Social Media


In the age of social media, ensuring that scientists and scholars in academic medicine have the skills and tools for engaging with patients and front-line healthcare professionals (knowledge users) is becoming increasingly difficult. The knowledge translation (KT) portion of any research program is fast becoming one of the most crucial and important steps for ensuring that scholars affect change. With the advent of social media, there is now an unprecedented ability for researchers and scholars to go beyond simply presenting at conferences to reach their knowledge users. Online communities of practice are allowing individual scientists to harness the power of social media to reach and disseminate work1–3, to increase peer recognition4,5, and to have more immediate impact.6

For the purposes of my NCER study protocol presentation, we will focus on project 2 – a qualitative study of scientists will various levels of involvement with social media-based KT.

The goal of this study will be to determine the enablers, barriers, and best practices for utilizing social media for KT.  I will plan to do so by conducting a qualitative, interview-based, constructivist grounded theory study across various stakeholder groups (ranging from active social media savvy scholars to skeptics/agnostics) to determine their perceptions of the usefulness or uselessness of social media for KT.


Social media is a disruptive technology7 that has changed the way that scientific information flows.8 In the past, it has taken up to 17 years for scientific medical studies to be translated to the bedside.9 Now with the advent of social media, this timeline is accelerated by increasing more real-time awareness and allowing clinicians to exchange ideas around new evidence or guidelines.6,8 The dissemination via social media around the recent landmark sepsis-related trials in 2016 (ProCESS10, ARISE11, ProMISe12) is something of a wonder.  Within days of publication, educators leapt online to help with disseminating information about these studies.6 This rapid KT was attributed, in part, by ARISE team’s social media engagement via their Twitter account (@TheARISEstudy).6  Without a doubt, the success of these social media-savvy researchers has shown that these new media are helping to reduce the KT timeframe.

Whereas the rapidly changing landscape of science communication may be opening up opportunities for new social media scholars, it may leave busy scientists feeling daunted about keeping current with these new forms of technologies.6,13 Platforms such as blogs14–16, podcasts17–20, Twitter21, wikis22–24, and YouTube25,26, are allowing for new forms of scientific communication that were not available to generations of scientists prior. With these interactive tools, however, comes the need to utilize them professionally, efficiently, and responsibly. Previous literature has detailed how social media platforms can be used unprofessionally in the medical profession,27–34 but there is surprisingly little evidence on how optimize the power of these technologies to improve their scientific communication for effective KT.

Protocol in Brief

Aim To conduct a qualitative, interview-based, constructivist grounded theory study across various stakeholder groups (ranging from active social media savvy scholars to skeptics to agnostics) to determine the enablers, barriers, and best practices for utilizing social media for KT. 
Background Recently, I co-wrote a conceptual commentary outlining three groups of new scholars in world of online education and KT.6 These groups (Critical Clinician, the Interactive Investigator, and the Translational Teacher) were formed from observation. The definitions of these terms are shown in Figure 2.

Using this framework as a sensitizing concept, I plan to lead a team to investigate the diverse perspectives of individuals, which include expert social media scholar and those who do not use social media (i.e. clinicians, researchers, and teachers who are not routinely using social media). As grounding work for building this line of research, I have been part of a team that has conducted a qualitative study of social media editors for journals. This work was presented at the Midwest Society for General Internal Medicine on September 15, 2017, and the paper is forthcoming.

Key Questions From the point of view of social media scholars and skeptics/agnostics, what are the enablers, barriers, and best practices for utilizing social media for KT?
Secondary Questions
  • What are unanticipated problems that scholars or skeptics/agnostics have encountered when using social media platforms?
  • What is the institutional climate for the use and adoption of these resources?
  • How do our interviewees view the impact of social media scholarship on their careers or careers of others?
  • Is there a match between an individual’s perception of his/her own role and that of others?
Methods Analytic team: I plan to recruit a junior investigator (with little to no experiences as either a scientist or a social media scholar) to help to bolster the reflexivity of the team. I will also invite non-physician researchers to interview the participants.

Materials: The investigators of this study will collaborate to generate a semi-structured interview based on the work previously done on social media editors. We will aim to use these prior results to scaffold our survey so that we can anticipate the larger categories of enablers, barriers, and best practices. We will pilot these interviews with non-participatory volunteers and refine the interview guide prior to implementation. This interview will be semi-structured so that we can use a constant comparative method35, revising the guide as we see new emergent themes in our concurrent analytic process. We will also gather simple demographic data to describe the population we have studied.  Appendix 1 shows our initially proposed semi-structured interview, which will be revised based on the results from our scoping review and from piloting with non-participatory informants.

Sampling: We plan to use a snowball sampling technique to isolate our populations of interest. We will utilize a recently published list of influential social media scholars on Twitter36 to initiate our sampling. We aim to contact the top 25 scholars from this list, and recruit them to our study. Once recruited, we will have our top 25 scholars nominate colleagues in each of the following 4 categories:

1)    Critical Clinician – a physician that mainly works in the clinical space, but interacts online to critique and describes applications of new evidence or guidelines;

2)    Translational Teacher – an individual who has training in education or psychology and utilizes this to optimize learning resources and experiences to educate their colleagues in the online world about new evidence or guidelines;

3)    Interactive Investigators – a researcher who interacts with knowledge users online in a deliberate fashion, aiming to inform and educate others about their topic domain and work.

4)    Social Media Skeptic or Agnostic– a person who feels that social media is unnecessary, time-consuming, challenging, or daunting and does not currently use social media for professional means.

 Figure 2: Three Types of Scholars for a New Era of Evidence-Based Medicine6

The nominated individual will not know the reason why they have been invited to be interviewed, but we will ask both the nominator and nominee participants to explain why they believe they should be included in the study.

This will generate a snowball sampling technique that will allow us to intentionally sample across multiple stakeholder groups. Interviewing, transcription, and analysis will occur in a constant comparative method. We intend to recruit around 40 individuals, sampling across the different targeted groups, but will be driven by within-group thematic sufficiency (i.e. saturation) for deciding when to stop interviewing new individuals.

Analysis Plan Using a constructivist grounded theory approach37, we aim to identify common experiences with regards to enablers, barriers, and perceptions around the usefulness of social media for knowledge translation.
Anticipated Outcomes This inductive approach will allow us to better describe a range of opinions around enablers and barriers to using social media for KT. We aim to also create a new theoretical model as to how experts and skeptics see these new technologies.  Finally, we will use their “best practices” list to augment the literature search previously discussed in Project 1 to generate a useful list of KT strategies for others.
Impact on EM Emergency Medicine is seen as a leading specialty when it comes to online education and knowledge translation. Continued scholarship in this area will continue to grow our specialty’s dominance in this area.


  1. Chan T, Seth Trueger N, Roland D, Thoma B. Evidence-based medicine in the era of social media: Scholarly engagement through participation and online interaction. 2017;0(0):1-6. doi:10.1017/cem.2016.407.
  2. Trueger NS, Thoma B, Hsu CH, Peters L, Lin M. The Altmetric Score – A Better Impact Factor? Ann Emerg Med. 2015;66(5):548-533.
  3. Priem J, Hemminger BM. Scientometrics 2.0: Toward new metrics of scholarly impact on the social Web. First Monday. 2010;15(7):1-20. http://pear.accc.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/2874/2570.
  4. Eysenbach G. Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on Twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13(4):e123. doi:10.2196/jmir.2012.
  5. Eysenbach G. The open access advantage. J Med Internet Res. 2006;8(2):e8. doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e8.
  6. Chan T, Trueger NS, Roland D, Thoma B. Evidence-based medicine in the era of social media: Scholarly engagement through participation and online interaction. CJEM. January 2017. doi:10.1017/cem.2016.407.
  7. Christensen CM, Raynor ME. The Innovator’s Solution. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; 2003.
  8. Lin M, Joshi N, Hayes BD, Chan TM. Accelerating Knowledge Translation: Reflections From the Online ALiEM- Annals Global Emergency Medicine Journal Club Experience. Ann Emerg Med. 2017:1-6. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2016.11.010.
  9. Morris ZS, Wooding S, Grant J. The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research. Jrsm. 2011;104(12):510-520. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180.
  10. Investigators P, Yealy D, Kellum J, et al. A randomized trial of protocol-based care for early septic shock. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(18):1683-1693. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1401602.
  11. Bailey M, Bellomo R, Peter A, et al. Goal-Directed Resuscitation for Patients with Early Septic Shock. N Engl J Med. 2014;371(16):1496-1506. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1404380.
  12. Mouncey PR, Osborn TM, Power GS, et al. Trial of Early, Goal-Directed Resuscitation for Septic Shock. N Engl J Med. 2015;372(14):1301-1311. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1500896.
  13. Thoma B, Mohindra R, Artz JD, Chan TM. CJEM and the changing landscape of medical education and knowledge translation. 2015;17(2):184-187. doi:10.1017/cem.2015.16.
  14. Maitzen R. Scholarship 2.0: Blogging and/as Academic Practice. 2012;17(3):348-354.
  15. Dainton C. Physician-writers in the age of blogging. CMAJ. 2009;181(5):348. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090305.
  16. Shema H, Bar-Ilan J, Thelwall M. Research blogs and the discussion of scholarly information. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e35869. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035869.
  17. Thoma B, Murray H, Huang SY, et al. The impact of social media promotion with infographics and podcasts on research dissemination and readership. Can J Emerg Med. Accepted J.
  18. Parson V, Reddy P, Wood J, Senior C. Educating an iPod generation: undergraduate attitudes, experiences and understanding of vodcast and podcast use. Learn Media Technol. 2009;34(3):215-228. doi:10.1080/17439880903141497.
  19. Sethi SK. Podcasting : Emerging Form of Virtual Clinical Education. Indian Pediatr. 2008;45:165.
  20. Jalali A, Wood TJ. Podcasting as a goal oriented toy in education. Adv Heal Sci Educ. 2012;17(4):605-606. doi:10.1007/s10459-012-9362-3.
  21. Choo EK, Ranney ML, Chan TM, et al. Twitter as a tool for communication and knowledge exchange in academic medicine: A guide for skeptics and novices. Med Teach. 2015;37(5):411-416. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2014.993371.
  22. McKibbon KA, Lokker C, Keepanasseril A, Colquhoun H, Haynes RB, Wilczynski NL. WhatisKT wiki: a case study of a platform for knowledge translation terms and definitions–descriptive analysis. Implement Sci. 2013;8(1):13. doi:10.1186/1748-5908-8-13.
  23. Archambault PM, Van De Belt TH, Grajales FJ, et al. Wikis and collaborative writing applications in health care: A scoping review. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(10). doi:10.2196/jmir.2787.
  24. Cabrera D, Cooney R. Wikis: Using Collaborative Platforms in Graduate Medical Education. J Grad Med Educ. 2016;8(1):99-100. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-15-00567.1.
  25. Chan T, Joshi N, Lin M, Mehta N. Using Google Hangouts on Air for Medical Education: A Disruptive Way to Leverage and Facilitate Remote Communication and Collaboration. J Grad Med Educ. 2015;7(2):171-173. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-14-00545.1.
  26. Narula N, Ahmed L, Rudkowski J. An evaluation of the “5 Minute Medicine” video podcast series compared to conventional medical resources for the internal medicine clerkship. Med Teach. 2012;34:e751-e755. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2012.689446.
  27. Walji M, Stanbrook MB. Health professionalism must be ensured online and offline. Can Med Assoc J. 2015;187(8):547-547. doi:10.1503/cmaj.150248.
  28. Tworek J. Digital professionalism curriculum for health sciences education. Futur Learn. 2012;1(1):53-64. doi:10.7564/12-FULE3.
  29. Kaczmarczyk JM, Chuang A, Dugoff L, et al. e-Professionalism: a new frontier in medical education. Teach Learn Med. 2013;25(2):165-170. doi:10.1080/10401334.2013.770741.
  30. Cunningham A. Social media and medical professionalism. Med Educ. 2014;48(2):110-112. doi:10.1111/medu.12404.
  31. Knox ADC, Reddy S, Mema B, DeMoya M, Cilli-Turner BME, Harris I. “Back in the Day”… What are Surgeon Bloggers Saying About Their Careers? J Surg Educ. May 2013:1-11. doi:10.1016/j.jsurg.2013.04.005.
  32. Chretien KC, Tuck MG, Simon M, Singh LO, Kind T. A Digital Ethnography of Medical Students who Use Twitter for Professional Development. J Gen Intern Med. 2015;30(11):1673-1680. doi:10.1007/s11606-015-3345-z.
  33. Lerner BH. Policing online professionalism: are we too alarmist? JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(19):1767-1768. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.9983.
  34. Jain A, Petty EM, Jaber RM, et al. What is appropriate to post on social media? Ratings from students, faculty members and the public. Med Educ. 2014;48(2):157-169. doi:10.1111/medu.12282.
  35. Glaser BG. The Constant Comparative Method of Qualitative Analysis. Soc Probl. 1965;12(4):436-445. http://www.jstor.org/stable/798843.
  36. Riddell J, Brown A, Kovic I, Jauregui J. Who are the most influential Emergency Medicine Physicians on Twitter? West J Emerg Med. 2017;Online Fir. doi:10.5811/westjem.2016.11.31299.
  37. Charmaz K. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis.; 2006. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2007.11.003.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked