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Digital Literacy for Educators and Learners Toolkit

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Social media has begun to play an increasing role in health care delivery.

This toolkit was designed to assist in creating a dialogue among current and future physicians about social media and issues regarding digital literacy and digital professionalism. It provides a starting ground to help physicians overcome the familiarity gap with social media so that they may facilitate meaningful discussions around this topic with their students and colleagues.

This set of resources is based on the authors’ collective social media experience and expertise.

This resource covers the subject matter of digital professionalism and will be one of a variety of toolkits that are part of this digital literacy project.

Digital Literacy Toolkit Contents and Downloads


This toolkit contains six cases based on real-life examples chosen to illustrate key concepts involving digital professionalism and social media. Each case includes a set of guiding questions that should help foster discussion about specific points within the case. Source material that the cases are based upon is included for review.

Review and download the cases

Each of the six cases also include:

Case Commentary – This section serves as a high-level assessment of the case that helps identify general discussion points that are pertinent to the case.  These are presented so that faculty with limited social media experience can facilitate a directed group discussion.

Educator Notes – This section directly addresses the case-specific guiding questions.  They serve as a starting point for discussion; more questions can always be added. 

Bottom Line – This section includes the take-home points or learning objectives for the case.

Toolkit Considerations - These suggested guidelines will help both learners and facilitators get the most out of the toolkit.

Bibliography and Summaries – This section includes a curated and annotated reading list that provides further background, context, and commentary for each case.


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Digital Literacy Toolkit Authors

This toolkit was authored by a team of physicians from AAMC-member institutions who specialize in the study area of digital professionalism. The case studies in the toolkit come from their experiences and curriculums. The following individuals contributed to this toolkit:

Katherine Chretien, M.D.
Medicine Clerkship Director; Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Chief, Hospitalist Section; Medicine Clerkship Director, Washington DC VA Medical Center
Associate Professor of Medicine, George Washington University

Neil Mehta, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine
Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University

Warren Wiechmann, M.D., M.B.A.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine
Associate Dean, Instructional Technologies
UC Irvine, School of Medicine

Bryan Vartabedian, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Baylor College of Medicine


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Digital Literacy Toolkit - Suggested User Guidelines

This toolkit is designed to be flexible to best fit the needs of you and your students. Below are a few options for how to utilize this toolkit. 

  • The faculty member will serve as the moderator/facilitator for the discussion – this can be done in a small group setting or in a lecture-hall setting;
  • In larger settings, students can be broken into smaller groups, with discussions moderated by a student “social media super-user.” Each group can then present a case to the larger group with discussion moderated by the faculty;
  • The cases can be distributed to the students beforehand for preparation. During the session, the moderator/facilitator will use the Case Commentary and Educator Notes as a guide. At the conclusion of the session, the Bottom Line and Bibliography can be distributed to the students; or
  • Alternatively, the Bibliography can be distributed beforehand. During the session, the cases are presented and the students apply the readings to discussing the cases. 
  • Audience response can be integrated to help encourage group discussion.


Digital Literacy Toolkit Cases


Case 1: The Rude Anesthesiologist

An anesthesiologist at a large academic medical center maintains an active Twitter presence under an anonymous name. She is well-known in the online community as someone who pushes the limits of public dialog by sharing details of patient encounters that are often disrespectful and crude. During one thread, this doctor discussed an impending ER encounter with a patient suffering with priapism. One observing physician screen-captured the conversation and created a post on his blog calling the behavior out of line and unprofessional. Case study and materials 

Case 2: Image of the Profession

YouTube is a free streaming video service where people can both upload and watch video clips. End of year talent shows are popular at many medical schools, featuring both live and recorded performances by medical students. One video posted by students from a large national medical school shows students parodying a popular rap song and dancing lewdly with skeletons. Dr. Zubin Damania, a Stanford-trained internist, has been making lighthearted video parodies to popular rap songs with an underlying serious message about public health and prevention. One of his videos is called “One Injection,” a parody of a pop song by band One Direction which contains sexual references and overtones, urging viewers to get the flu shot; outcomes showed later that it resulted in a 35 percent increase in flu shot adoption. Case study and materials 

Case 3: Free Speech vs. Professionalism

A mortuary student posted several messages about a cadaver she was working on in anatomy lab on Facebook. Examples include: nicknaming the cadaver ‘Bernie’, “Hmm, perhaps I will spend the evening updating my 'Death List #5,' " and that she would soon stop seeing "my best friend, Bernie," "Bye, bye Bernie. Lock of hair in my pocket.” The University of Minnesota filed a formal complaint that alleged the student engaged in "threatening, harassing or assaultive conduct." However, they were sued for infringing on the student’s free speech. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University on 6/20/12, stating that censure was justified by "narrowly tailored" rules directly related to "established professional conduct standards. Case study and materials 

Case 4: Friending Patients on Social Media

After doctors initially misdiagnosed her son with strep throat, a mother posted several pictures of her son’s worsening rash and facial edema on Facebook. Although she received many responses that were incorrect, a non-physician neighbor suspected the boy had Kawasaki’s disease based on previous experience with the illness in her own son. The mother took the son to the hospital for immediate work up, and it turned out to be the correct diagnosis. As a result of social media, her son avoided additional complications and recovered from Kawasaki associated liver dysfunction. Case study and materials 

Case 5: The Political Resident

Brandon is a surgery resident who, since starting medical school, has kept a blog about his views on medicine, medical education, and health care politics. Recently, Brandon has blogged extensively about his extreme political views regarding the upcoming election. His residency director reads his blog and tells him that he must delete his posts and can no longer write new ones, as he is not only a hospital employee and a representative of the residency program, but also a professional who must represent himself accordingly. Case study and materials 

Case 6: The Screaming Baby on Facebook

A pediatric gastroenterologist receives a Facebook friend request from a woman in his community. Unfamiliar with the woman, the pediatrician messages back by asking where they may have met or how they might know one another. The woman replies, “You don’t know me, but I have an 8-week-old baby who won’t stop crying and will only take 12 ounces of formula per day.” For background, pediatric gastroenterology is a subspecialty experiencing significant shortages in certain parts of the country. The wait to see a pediatric gastroenterologist can be several weeks. Note: 12 ounces of milk for a two-month-old baby represents dangerously low intake. Case study and materials 


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