Monday, May 5, 2014

"I heard it on a podcast once.."

The Gist:  In the medical and clinical arenas, it may often be unwise to simply quote an expert as justification, whether it's an expert on a podcast or something heard at a national conference lecture.  Use Free Open Access Medical education (FOAM) as a springboard for deeper learning and consider eliminating the phrase "I heard this on a podcast.." from one's arsenal.
  • Note: This is not an evidence based post, rather it's entirely opinion from the powerful experiences I've had failing at using FOAM (and other traditional, peer reviewed sources) juxtaposed with successes.  
The Case:  A trainee at Janus General took care of a patient with hyperkalemia secondary to polypharmacy (spironolactone, ibuprofen, and TMP-SMX).  When admitting the patient, the attending asked why sodium polystyrene (kayexalate) had not been administered and requested it be given in the emergency department.  The trainee replied, with a smug voice, "Well, I heard on a podcast that we don't need to give this, so I'm not going to."

Issues:  Repeating an authority figure's opinion without due diligence can be dangerous, whether it's in a podcast, on a blog, or in a lecture hall.

Eminence versus evidence.  The post, The Matthew Effect, demonstrates examples of how sometimes things that are quoted, both in FOAM and the literature, aren't always as .

Local standard of care.  Practice patterns vary for a myriad of reasons including: health care delivery models, availability of resources, geography, the practice of consultants, the legal system, and patient expectations.  As a result, things heard from experts may not apply, may not work within the framework of the local system, or may take time to implement.  Thus, it's important to keep this in mind while simultaneously pushing for the best, evidence based care for our patients.

A Few Fixes
Effective learning involves hard work.  As such, these "fixes" relegate slightly more responsibility on the learner, or whomever is process and potentially using the information.  

Read.  Good podcasts and blogs cite the references for their assertions.  When one encounters a controversial or innovative bit of information from a podcast or blog, spend extra time processing the information as quality and an author's spin may vary.  Furthermore, the "cutting edge" components of podcasts are often rooted in core texts and these can be used for both perspective and leverage.  This post delves more into establishing our thresholds to change our clinical practice.
  • Example:  "As you're aware, literature such as the 2010 Cochrane review and the American College of Gastroenterology guidelines on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)  in patients with upper gastrointestinal bleeds didn't show any patient oriented benefit.  So, while I think this patient needs admission for endoscopy and further management, I feel comfortable holding off on this intervention at this time."   
Pose a question.  It is fun to bust myths and “lyse dogma” yet this can be off-putting and interventions may not work or be appropriate within the local system or standards of care.  It’s often helpful to generate a discussion on the subject under investigation, regardless of the medium - a new article, blog, or heard on a podcast or conference.
  • Example:  "Some physicians, including some in the nephrology literature, question the efficacy and utility of sodium polystyrene compared with the other interventions we have - with some potential for harm.  How does that fit in here?" Or, "What do you think of this study by Sterns et al in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology?" 
Disclaimer.  Often, the tacit information shared on podcasts precedes supporting literature, if it exists.  For example, in January 2011, Dr. Scott Weingart published a podcast on delayed sequence intubation (DSI).  In the podcast and lectures on DSI at national conferences, Dr. Weingart has given a clear disclaimer regarding the paucity of peer reviewed evidence on this topic.  Weingart's paper addressing DSI was published online in 2010, yet the print version surfaced over a year later in June 2011, with cases published by Lollgen et al and Schneider et al in 2013-2014.
  • Example:  "I think we should maximize pre-oxygenation in this patient and, while it's not an evidence based technique, some people such as Dr. Scott Weingart, suggest that there may be times when procedural sedation can help with pre-oxygenation as we prepare to intubate."  
The Real World:  Now, it is impossible to perform individual deep dives on every clinical topic.  We do need filters and reliable, trustworthy sources.  Sometimes it can be difficult to parse these out.   There are potential solutions in the FOAM world.  For example, Dr. Seth Trueger offers the following in jest, but it may be helpful to approach information that one counters with the assumption that the accuracy isn't always what it seems.

Also, an excellent new FOAM search-engine, iClickEM (still in beta-testing; however, I recommend getting on the waitlist), pairs peer-reviewed sources alongside a set of curated FOAM sources.  The engine also uses fancy algorithms to create relevant and trusted results.

Engage in dialogue with colleagues, mentors in training programs, or content experts.  Reference FOAM resources such as podcasts and blogs and cite these works appropriately.  Yet please, consider refraining from prefacing a statement with, "I read it on a blog" or "I heard it on a podcast once."  


  1. Great post. This happens often and we have to be wary of it. It's not enough to say, "I don't want to admit this low risk chest pain patient because Dave Newman says you don't have to." The show notes/blog are there for a reason. Before you start doing anything in a clinical arena, you must critically assess/review the literature and decide the strength of the evidence behind the recommendation.

    For many things critical care, though, there's little evidence and expert opinion often reigns. That's okay as well but you must recognize the limitations of these recommendations and understand why many docs will be leary to adopt.

  2. That is the reason why #FOAM should not replace "old school" study. Books are still the first strong step that has to be climbed. Then, when you've built enough knowledge, you can be a happy and safe #FOAMite: we struggle to improve care for the best of our patients, not because it is fancy.
    I think that the youngest of us can be easily lost in the #FOAM world without a good base (basic knowledge of medicine) and a good mentorship.

    But then, when you have the basis, you can really enjoy at best what #FOAM can give to you. And then you can make the difference: otherwise, the risk is to dogmalyse something to create another dogmas.

  3. Great post, thanks. Really no different than the "I read it in a journal" that happened before #FOAMed. And it's the same basic issue of people reading the abstract and the conclusion and changing practice without reading the whole article. I always have an explanation in my mind in case I have to defend my self to powers that be or heaven forbid someone with JD after their name.