The role of FOAM and social networks in COVID-19


“Uncertainty creates weakness. Uncertainty makes one tentative, if not fearful, and tentative steps, even when in the right direction, may not overcome significant obstacles.”1

Recently, I spent my vacation time quarantined reading “The Great Influenza,” which recounts the history of the 1918 pandemic. Despite over a century of scientific and medical progress, the parallels to our current situation are indisputable. Just as in 1918, we are limiting social gatherings, quarantining, wearing face masks, and living with the fear and anxiety of keeping ourselves and our families safe. In 1918, use of aspirin, quinine, and digitalis therapies in a desperate search for relief despite limited evidence mirror the current use of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and lopinavir/ritonavir. While there are many similarities between the two situations, in this pandemic our channels for dissemination of scientific literature are better developed, and online networks are enabling physicians across the globe to communicate their experience and findings in near real time.

During this time of uncertainty, our understanding of COVID-19 evolves daily. Without the advantage of robust randomized, controlled trials and large-scale studies to guide us, we are forced to rely on pattern recognition for surveillance and anecdotal or limited case-based accounts to guide clinical care. Fortunately, free open-access medical education (FOAM) and social networks offer a significant advantage in our ability to collect and disseminate information.

Free open access medical education

The concept of FOAM started in 2012 with the intent of creating a collaborative and constantly evolving community to provide open-access medical education. It encompasses multiple platforms – blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media – and features content experts from across the globe. Since its inception, FOAM has grown in popularity and use, especially within emergency medicine and critical care communities, as an adjunct for asynchronous learning.2,3

Dr. Dennis Ren, Children's National Hospital, Washington

Dr. Dennis Ren

In a time where knowledge of COVID-19 is dynamically changing, traditional sources like textbooks, journals, and organizational guidelines often lag behind real-time clinical experience and needs. Additionally, many clinicians are now being tasked with taking care of patient populations and a new critical illness profile with which they are not comfortable. It is challenging to find a well-curated and updated repository of information to answer questions surrounding pathophysiology, critical care, ventilator management, caring for adult patients, and personal protective equipment (PPE). During this rapidly evolving reality, FOAM is becoming the ideal modality for timely and efficient sharing of reviews of current literature, expert discussions, and clinical practice guidelines.

A few self-directed hours on EMCrit’s Internet Book of Critical Care’s COVID-19 chapter reveals a bastion of content regarding diagnosis, pathophysiology, transmission, therapies, and ventilator strategies.4 It includes references to major journals and recommendations from international societies. Websites like EMCrit and REBEL EM are updated daily with podcasts, videos, and blog posts surrounding the latest highly debated topics in COVID-19 management.5 Podcasts like EM:RAP and Peds RAP have made COVID segments discussing important topics like pharmacotherapy, telemedicine, and pregnancy available for free.6,7 Many networks, institutions, and individual physicians have created and posted videos online on critical care topics and refreshers.


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