Physicians Thinking About Using Twitter

Twitter, like most social media, is evolving rapidly. So, while I posted on this topic last year, it warrants an update. Even though most physicians are not directly familiar with Twitter, more are building an awareness and curiosity each month. This post is written mostly for those of you new to this tool or giving it consideration.

The AMA recently posted an article entitled Physicians on Twitter (logon required) and here is a synopsis of their study:

-The study focused on 5,156 tweets from 260 self-identified physicians with 500 or more followers between May 1 and May 31, 2010. Three percent of the tweets were categorized as “unprofessional,” meaning that they included profanity, potential patient privacy violations, sexually explicit material, or discriminatory statements.

One percent of the tweets were marked “other unprofessional,” which included unsupported claims about a product they were selling on their website or repeated promotions of specific health products. Ten of these statements about medical therapies countered existing medical knowledge or guidelines, potentially leading to patient harm. –

While the percentages in the study don’t seem particularly alarming as compared to any other communication channel, as a physician trying to determine the value of Twitter and how one might or might not use it, I offer a few suggestions:

1. Twitter is a good tool for disseminating information. If you find articles or have opinions you want to broadcast, this is your tool. As @KevinMD remarked one time: Twitter is a headline….blogs are for fully formed thoughts.

2. Don’t buy into the hype. If you don’t use Twitter, or even if you just “lurk”, you will not become irrelevant to either your colleagues or patients.

3. Unless people that follow you are drastically different than the vast majority of people, no one cares when you are going to bed, what you are making for dinner etc. In other words, don’t use Twitter as if it’s your opportunity to star in Truman Show Part 2.

4. If you decide to use Twitter for two-way communications, ask whether or not a message would be more appropriate over email. How to decide? Do others benefit from the conversation in any way? If not, it’s likely noise or narcissism, and both are worth avoiding.

Finally, no one knows where Twitter will go. It may grow in its influence or it could just as easily flame out as something more effective comes along to fill the void. Regardless, it’s got a pronounced foot-print at the moment and worthy of your consideration. Here is a funny video mocking Twitter with a hat tip to the Facebook movie The Social Network.

Related Posts:

The Doctor Will Tweet You Now

How Twitter Hashtags Can Start Medical Conversations

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