#KeyLIMEpodcast 126: Caveat Emptor – Free Online Resources

This week the Key Literature in Medical Education podcast joins the Harvard Macy TweetChat (#HMIchat) to discuss Social Medial Scholarship in Medical Education.  The article below (or better yet the podcast here) is our jumping off point for a discussion on how to navigate and adjudicate the innovations available online.  Talk to you February 1!

– Jonathan



KeyLIME Session 126 – Article under review:

Listen to the podcast

View/download the abstract here.


Lin M, Joshi N, Grock A, Swaminathan A, Morley EJ, Branzetti J, Taira T, Ankel F, Yarris LM. Approved Instructional Resources Series: A National Initiative to Identify Quality Emergency Medicine Blog and Podcast Content for Resident Education. J Grad Med Educ. 2016 May;8(2):219-25.

Reviewer: Jon Sherbino (@sherbino)


I appreciate the irony.  I’m reviewing an article on the quality and trustworthiness of on-line resources on my podcast.  Yep.  I will let that sit for a second.

(For the record, NOTHING said on the KeyLIME podcast is ever incorrect or without bias. Wait… please come back…)

With the rise of the Free Open Access Medical Education (#FOAMed) movement, blogs and podcasts have rapidly grown in number. (For example, current estimates have the number of podcasts in all categories exceeding 150k.) Yet, amidst all of the noise, where is the signal?  Put another way, what blog or podcast should I listen too?  The paradox of choice is overwhelming.

McKibbon coined the term number-needed-to-read as an analytic of how many journal articles a clinician reads before finding a manuscript that changes practice.  (Warning, it’s in the double digits for all journals and disciplines.)  The parallel challenge for medical education is this. If a novice seeks out blogs and podcasts ad hoc, will they find accurate and unbiased resources?  Can a busy Clinician Educator, feasibly vet the existing (and rapidly expanding) library of #FOAMed resources to help guide novices?

This research group seeks to address this challenge, developing a scoring system to identify high quality blogs and podcasts.  Maybe, I don’t need to worry about this problem, it’s already been solved.


“To develop and implement a process to curate quality [Emergency Medicine] content on blogs and podcasts for resident education and [accreditation-approved asynchronous learning] credit.”

Type of Paper

Report of an innovation

Key Points on Methods

The ACGME Review Committee for Emergency Medicine permits 20% of traditional didactic learning (e.g. academic day or conference or extra clinical learning) to be replaced with asynchronous learning resources. This innovation report describes the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine (ALiEM.com) work to curate content for EM residency training. (ALiEM is a not-for-profit, non-institutionally affiliated, learning organization.)

The AIR Series (approved instructional resources) was developed via a needs assessment to determine the desired medical expert content of US EM residency programs.

Each module is developed by an expert panel (8 faculty with various education, clinical and administrative roles).  Posts published in the last 12 months are identified from the top 50 EM-relevant blogs and podcasts as determined by a previously validated scale.  Identified posts are scored for methodological quality and clinical applicability via a novel scale that builds on the a previously validated scale.  Elements of the scale include:

  • Clinical impact,
  • Content accuracy,
  • Evidence of bias,
  • Appropriate references, and
  • Educational utility

Only highly rated posts from blogs or podcasts are curated for the monthly module on a specific topic. The expert panel drafts multiple choice questions relevant to the selected posts and topic. The module is hosted on the ALiEM website.

Key Outcomes

Program evaluation of the AIR Series indicated the following:

  • It is feasible with 60-80 people-hours required per module
  • It is used with 65 US residency programs enrolling and each module receiving 500-2000 views from 30 to 50 countries in the first 30 days of publication of a module.
  • It is satisfying subscribers self-reported needs with 2064 (of 2140 quiz participants) endorsing the modules.

Key Conclusions

The authors conclude…

The AIR Series curates quality blogs and podcasts for graduate medical education using a national expert panel of educators, a novel scoring instrument to peer review social media resources, and custom assessment quizzes. The initiative serves as the foundation for a free national curriculum featuring blogs and podcasts that can be incorporated into the EM curriculum to provide high-quality teaching materials for residents’ online self-learning.”

Spare Keys – other take home points for clinician educator

Academic Life in Emergency Medicine is an amazing virtual community of practice that has developed from its grassroots origins into an established and influential (within the academic emergency medicine community) learning organization.  It is a model for development of an academic organization outside of traditional university or hospital structures that by nature of its innovative DNA can rapidly design, test and evolve, unencumbered by institutional tradition or culture.

Shout out

This paper and this podcast will be the jumping off point for a Harvard Macy TweetChat February 1.  HT @kristinadzara and @teresasoro

Access KeyLIME podcast archives here

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