As of 2018, according to The International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, more than 42,000 scholarly peer-reviewed journals had collectively published more than three million articles annually. In recent years, growth has accelerated to a staggering 4% increase per year for articles and more than 5% for journals.
“There has been an explosion of medical knowledge over the last decade,” said Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD, MSc, resident surgeon in the department of surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and chief medical officer of HOK, a global design and architectural firm in Ann Arbor. “There is so much more information to follow in order to stay abreast and current. Therefore, we need faster ways to digest material.”
Jennifer A. Villwock, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City and associate editor of ENTtoday, added that it’s no longer reasonable or feasible to consume everything with one mechanism. “When comparing how many scientific studies are published today versus years ago, it’s obvious that we’re facing a time of information overload. We need better ways to relay information, so that consumers can get the content that is most useful to them.”
In addition to this “information overload,” consumers are changing how they digest scientific data, and the scientific and scholarly communities need novel ways to convey this information. “This is evident in business and marketing—where everything is very visual,” Dr. Villwock said. “The same goes for social media trends.”
Technology plays a key role in filling the gap left by traditional paper journals and lectures at medical society meetings. With many different devices and formats available, technology can cater to different learning styles. “If we only offer traditional methods of relaying scientific information, we will miss people, because that may not be their learning preference or how they taught themselves to consume that information,” Dr. Villwock said.
Michael M. Johns, MD, director of the USC Voice Center, division director of laryngology, and professor at the USC Caruso department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery in Los Angeles, agreed. “People digest information differently these days with an exponential increase in digital communication,” he said. “There are many different and easy ways to quickly share information online. Seemingly, everyone has a high-powered computer in their hands all the time.”
Furthermore, technology has become better and cheaper; many sources of information are now free or open sourced. “This has made it even more accessible,” Dr. Villwock said.
The bottom line, Dr. Ibrahim said, is that to stay relevant to readers, journals needed to innovate. This happened first with a move from paper to online. The next evolution will be to move from purely text to a journal that is highly visual and purposefully designed. “Reading something from two weeks ago may already be old news,” he said. “Our ability to share informational digitally in real time in formats that can be seen on mobile devices is a game changer.”
Here’s a look at 10 newer ways to disseminate scientific information that have emerged in recent years.
1 Visual Abstracts
This is a visual summary of the most salient points of a scientific article, which would typically be found in an article’s abstract in text form. It is distilled into two or three panels of visual information, and features a few high-impact icons. “The goal is to quickly visually encapsulate a paper’s overall message; it’s not meant to be all encompassing,” Dr. Villwock said. “It’s like a movie trailer—it gives some highlights and helps viewers gauge their interest. It’s intended to entice viewers to read the entire paper.”
“It’s much less cognitively demanding to look at a picture and get the gist of an article in a few seconds than read an abstract,” Dr. Villwock said. Visual abstracts are found on journal websites, and researchers might post them on Twitter to promote their papers (See visual abstract, below).
2 Minimalist posters
Like a traditional poster, minimalist posters are set up in a poster hall at a meeting; however, instead of displaying a lot of verbiage viewers must read to discover a poster’s main conclusion, they’re very effective in presenting a core message with a minimal number of words, Dr. Johns said. They don’t contain a lot of figures and images either.
“These posters relay a study’s most important finding up front, but provide limited information beyond that,” Dr. Villwock said. “A poster might lead to a substantial conversation between an attendee and poster presenter.” It’s ideal for anyone who has a project that they can distill in a few main points.
Interested viewers can scan a QR code with their smart device to get more information about a poster. “Minimalist posters have greatly facilitated the ability to view the core message from many more posters during a poster session,” Dr. Johns added. (See image, right).
This social media platform is accessible on a smartphone or computer. A form of micro-blogging, it allows users to share thoughts and ideas in 280 characters or less. “Re-tweeting” allows users to share a post created by another Twitter user and forward it to their network, increasing its visibility. Anything can be shared in a tweet, including research data, journal articles, or opinions, said Inna Husain, MD, assistant residency professor, associate program director, and section head of laryngology at Rush University in Chicago. “Think of a tweet as a brief snippet of information to gain attention,” Dr. Husain said. Since it is web based, information can spread quite rapidly across the world. A downside is that tweets are not rigorously vetted for their factuality.
Oftentimes, a tweet will link back to a longer article, or a tweeter might post a question to garner feedback from a diverse group. “It exponentially expands our network and our ability to reach people we normally wouldn’t interact with,” Dr. Villwock said.
When comparing how many scientific studies are published today versus years ago, it’s obvious that we’re facing a time of information overload. We need better ways to relay information, so that consumers can get the content that is most useful to them. —Jennifer A. Villwock, MD
Webinars are web-based seminars used for medical education. “They offer the ability to join a seminar in another location,” Dr. Husain said. “Attendees aren’t limited by geography and can attend from the convenience of their home or office.”
Webinars can be live or recorded, and can be interactive. “They can permit listeners to have discussions with each other, an instructor, or a facilitator,” said Jeffrey P. Simons, MD, coordinator for education at the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, and professor of otolaryngology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“In theory, virtual education seems to be a no-brainer,” said Todd Ponsky, MD, professor of surgery in the department of surgery, and director of Clinical Growth and Transformation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. “The cost for a physician to travel to a conference and miss work is becoming more difficult to justify. People are traveling to conferences less as productivity requirements increase.”
5 Live Streaming
Digital technology, such as live audience polling or live streaming of presentations, is increasingly incorporated into the traditional meeting format. Live streaming is watching an event that is being recorded live. It can be done via an app such as Facebook and shared on a network, so no complex equipment is required. “The downside is that because it is recorded and shared live, there is no editing process,” Dr. Husain said. “Oftentimes, it is done without the direct consent of the person being recorded.”
As a result of streaming capabilities, Dr. Johns said that audience participation at meetings is increasing. “Attendees are creating posts and uploading photos from events,” he said. “Ultimately, a meeting’s impact is expanded through digital technology.”
6 Online CME
An acronym for online continuing medical education courses, these are web-based educational opportunities that allow participants to earn credits to maintain their medical certification. They aim to maintain, develop, or increase a physician’s knowledge, skills, and professional performance, Dr. Husain said. Participants typically read, watch, or listen to educational material, and then complete a survey or post-test in order to gain credits. Compared with physically attending a class at a meeting, this format is more convenient and requires less time and expense.
7 Digital Micromoments
This is a short period of time in which someone accesses their smart device and quickly gleans information. “If someone has a few seconds or minutes to spare while riding an elevator or walking down the street, for example, they might click on a Twitter notification, check a social media thread, or send an email or text,” Dr. Johns said. These are all considered digital micromoments. “In today’s ocean of information, if you want to convey something, you need to be able to capitalize on digital micromoments, because that’s how people are consuming information.”
This is an audio format for information that would traditionally be presented in writing. “Listeners can consume information at their preferred time and location, like a webinar,” Dr. Johns said. “Podcasts are gaining popularity with journals, medical societies, and specialty groups, who use them to present information to a broader audience around the world.”
Dr. Husain said a podcast is like a radio show that anyone can do without having a radio station affiliation. Podcasts involve recording a topic and then disseminating it free online. Users download it via an app such as iTunes or Spotify and then listen to it on a smartphone. Podcasts work well for sharing thoughts, ideas, and general interest stories. A downside is that it can be opinionated without necessarily being vetted for accuracy.
Simulation training involves the artificial representation of real events to achieve educational goals. Simulation provides the opportunity to learn and practice new skills and procedures in near-realistic situations without the risk of injuring a patient. “Simulation will play an increasing role in otolaryngology education in the future,” Dr. Simons said. It can be applied not only for training in a variety of surgical techniques, but also for education in interpersonal communication skills, team-based interactions, and challenging clinical scenarios. In the future, high-stakes simulation will likely also be used for administering board examinations, granting licensure, maintaining certification, and hospital privileging.
10 Serious Games and Gamification
Gamification involves applying game-design elements and game principles to non-game contexts. These games are developed for purposes other than purely entertainment. “Such games have been increasingly used for medical education, as they have the potential to be interactive, stimulating, challenging, and goal-oriented,” Dr. Simons said. Virtual reality and simulation can also be incorporated into games for medical education. Benefits include increasing learner satisfaction and keeping learners engaged and motivated. They can also be disseminated to a wide audience and allow for self-paced learning, repetition, and continual assessment.
As a new decade begins, technology will play an ever-increasing role in keeping up with educational demands. And with technological advances picking up speed, imagine how this list will change as 2030 approaches!
Karen Appold is a freelance medical writer based in Pennsylvania.