In Education & Quality Improvement, Featured, Featured Education Innovations (FEI) by Andrea LoLeave a Comment

Polly is a first year resident who has recently been introduced to free open access medical education (FOAM). She decides to use FOAM to learn tips and tricks to manage a lower GI bleed. However, she finds herself frustrated by spending lengthy periods of time navigating different sites to try to answer her questions. There are so many resources, but which is the best for her current needs? Polly wonders if there is a tool that can make FOAM resources better organized and accessible so that she can meet her specific learning goals. 

With the increasing volume of FOAM, it can be difficult to find the right and best resources to fulfill one’s learning objectives. This Feature Educational Innovation (FEI), titled “ILearnEM” was originally posted by the CAEP EWG FEI Team on May 4, 2016 and answers the question: “How can we make FOAM resources more accessible to meet user specific learning goals?” A PDF version is available here.

Description of the Innovation

Background of ILearnEM

While there has been an explosion of high quality online educational media in the field of emergency medicine in the recent years, there is a definite lack of organization of this Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) content for user-specific learning goals. This is the story of this post’s author, Andrea Lo.

Having been an avid EM FOAM user through medical school, family medicine residency, and now my emergency medicine fellowship, I found myself navigating through many websites in order to find resources that met my current and evolving needs. This disorganization is a significant barrier to entering the FOAM world as well as finding the wealth of resources that are available. While seasoned FOAM users and practicing physicians may be content with a surprise topic from their favourite FOAM producer each month, the majority of learners, and especially users new to FOAM, will often have a specific learning objective in mind and not know where to find an appropriate resource. In addition, they may find several resources, but lack the ability to gauge the quality of the resource.



ILearnEM aims to curate the highest quality and free learning resources available online (ie Free open access medical education or “FOAM”) to cover the fundamental topics in emergency medicine. Links to these resources will be systematically organized, similar to core emergency medicine textbooks such as Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine Manual, from which licensing exams are based. Topics are further broken down into “approach to” and “beyond the basics” categories.

Target Audience

ILearnEM provides an organized curriculum in emergency medicine for self-study and targets learners from across a wide spectrum. The target audience includes medical students interested in EM, a new EM resident, a Family Medicine Practitioner working in a rural ED or wanting to challenge the Canadian EM licensing exam, or even a practising EM doc looking for a review of core topics.


Recently, Thoma et al. have defined and are now validating a Social Media Index (SMi), which attempts to give an indirect measure of quality for online educational resources1. The SMi is calculated from scores on 4 followership variables. This index has the potential to be a stable and accessible indicator of impact of the various FOAM websites.  Further information on score calculation is available here.

Andrea Lo (CCFP-EM resident) and Hans Rosenberg (Emergency Physician at The Ottawa Hospitals) used the the top 50 scoring websites on the SMi to curate the links on the ILearnEM site. As there is not yet any evidence-based criteria for differentiating between high and low quality FOAM content, specific blog posts or podcasts were reviewed and chosen based on gestalt and guided by The Quality Checklists for Health Professions Blogs and Podcasts which can be found here.

These checklists were compiled using a modified Delphi consensus by an international cohort of FOAM experts and health professional educators for quality indicators for blogs and podcasts used in medical education2.

Future Directions of ILearnEM

This website was released in March 2016, and sent to the medical school classes at University of Ottawa, the Emergency Medicine residents at The Ottawa Hospital, and published on social media on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Program directors for the CCFP-EM programs across Canada will also receive it.

The innovators are currently tracking website traffic as well as gauging the audience type by using a simple poll on the homepage. Because of its recent release, this data is not yet ready for analysis.

Going forward, we hope to expand our team and solidify a sustainable methodology in order to maintain and regularly update the site with new FOAM content at least monthly.

What strategies do you use to navigate through resources to answer your specific questions?

Are there any tips you would suggest to individuals new to the FOAM world?


More about CAEP FEI

This post was originally authored for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) Feature Educational Innovations project sponsored by the CAEP Academic Section’s Education Working Group and edited by Drs. Teresa Chan and Julien Poitras. CAEP members receive FEI each month in the CAEP Communiqué. CanadiEM will be reposting some of these summaries, along with a case/contextualizing concept to highlight some recent medical education literature that is relevant to our nation’s teachers.[bg_faq_end]


Thoma B, Sanders J, Lin M, Paterson Q, Steeg J, Chan T. The social media index: measuring the impact of emergency medicine and critical care websites. West J Emerg Med. 2015;16(2):242-249. [PubMed]
Colmers IN, Paterson QS, Lin M, et al. The quality checklists for medical education blogs and podcasts. The Winnower. doi: 10.15200/winn.144720.08769

Andrea Lo

Dr. Andrea Lo is a staff emergency physician at Humber River Hospital and Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She has an interest in both FOAMed and quality improvement.

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Chirag Bhat

Chirag Bhat is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Ottawa. He has interests in medical education and toxicology. He is a basketball fan and cheers for the Toronto Raptors.