Using Pop Culture to Promote Free, Open Access Medical Education

By Sarah Sonies

When Dr. James McCormack began producing educational videos on the concept of minimally-disruptive medicine by reworking popular Top 40 and rock songs, he had no idea they would draw more than 30,000 views on YouTube.

It all started when McCormack, a professor with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, wanted a lively way to disseminate research and information on things like proper medication use and evidence-based medicine for those in the medical profession.

“I’ve always had an interest in music. The videos are a combination of my love of music, love of parody and humor,” McCormack says. “One of the ways to get people interested in something is to create an emotional connection; music and humor do that.”

Blending his passions for music and pop culture, McCormack made his first video two years ago: a spoof of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” aptly titled, “Some Studies That I Like to Quote.” The video urges greater emphasis on evidence-based decisions in cardiovascular care.

“I wanted to encourage my colleagues in the health care profession to think about, and focus on, important patient decisions in care delivery that were applicable to their practice,” McCormack says.

McCormack’s work exemplifies the goals of #FOAMed, a concept (and commonly used Twitter hashtag) that stands for “free open-access medical education.” FOAM resources are packaged by those in the health professions for colleagues and peers and often are disseminated on social media channels

“FOAM is really a name for something that has been going on for a while and is starting to gain momentum,” says Eve Purdy, a medical student at Queen’s University, Kingston, and curator of Manu et Corde, a medical student blog. “I think what the FOAM community is hoping to do is change practice and give clinicians an easier way to access best practices.”

According to David Carr, editor of InformationWeek Healthcare, the concept of FOAM was first promoted at a 2012 emergency medicine conference in a lecture by Mike Cadogan, an Australian emergency medicine physician, educator, and digital media enthusiast. Cadogan was frustrated with the resistance of many physicians and medical educators to the potential of social media. His lecture rebranded what he and others were doing online as a form of continuing education.

“The interesting element about FOAMed is that it seems to be an emerging factor in continuing medical education,” Carr says. “It’s open-access sharing of resources. It’s accessible, it’s ‘by-the-doctors-for-the-doctors.’ You’re getting more up-to-the-moment education.”

Consistent with the power of digital imaging in FOAM, McCormack’s packaging is creative and lively; information is relevant to consumers as well as the health care community. Calling the videos a “labor of love,” McCormack pens the lyrics using content from presentations and lectures. For tunes that take a diverse set of vocal ranges, he works with local musicians to set the lyrics to music.

“In my opinion, the true role of an academic is to disseminate information,” McCormack said. “This is important content, and I wanted great quality in order to get the message across.”

His latest video, “Viva La Evidence,” puts a new spin on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. The video discusses the principles of evidence-based medicine and delves into the history of the concept.

In addition to his video work. McCormack produces a weekly podcast with his colleague, Dr. Michael Allan, associate professor in the Department of Family Practice at the University of Alberta. The podcast provides listeners with “current, evidence-based, and practical drug therapy that is entertaining and promotes healthy skepticism.” The podcast, “Best Science Medicine Podcast – BS without the BS” can be accessed and downloaded through iTunes. McCormack’s videos and podcasts are independently funded.

More of James McCormack’s videos can be found on his YouTube channel.