A recent article in the Atlantic went so far as to eulogize the popular 140-character microblogging service. This was met with mixed feelings on Twitter, with some agreeing and others lamenting and saying it ain’t so. Knowing that all technology has a life cycle curve, could it be Twitter would be retired and go the way of MySpace or Friendster? It seems hard to believe, especially in medicine. After all, it seems like doctors are just starting to adopt Twitter.
This was readily apparent since after attending the typical series of medical conference this Spring, including Hospital Medicine 2014, where the backchannel of Twitter was a flutter with real-time reactions to plenaries and the best places to eat in a particular locale. Many presenters often had their Twitter handle proudly on display and invited further interaction through Twitter after their presentations. While it is true that Twitter now is not Twitter of yesteryear, when you could interact the small network of people tweeting in healthcare….but that does not mean it is not as powerful.
This brings me to a recent question I was posed: why should a practicing physician be on Twitter? I have written about the positives before, particularly in academia, but it’s worth highlighting what a practicing physician could gain from Twitter in general.
- Learn from professional sources – Through following journals, newspapers, and professional societies, physicians can stay updated on the latest breaking news and research in their field. This is not a perk to be understated given how hard it is to keep up with the recent medical literature! For example, any hospitalist should follow @SHMLive and @JHospMedicine (shameless plug/disclosure- I am one of the Deputy Editors of the Journal of Hospital Medicine).
- Establish your expertise – While this is sometimes referred to as “building your brand,” which can sound funny as a physician, one of the key things that is critical to building a patient base is establishing your expertise. Even if you are not in the business of building a patient base, by using Twitter to tweet whatever your expertise is, you are establishing yourself as a “go-to” person on a set of issues or topics. For a hospitalist, that could mean tweeting about quality (#healthQI), safety (#ptsafety), infection control (#infectioncontrol), informatics (#HIT, or #EHR) or a variety of other related topics in hospital medicine.
- Appreciate the patient voice – There are tons of patients on Twitter, and they are very vocal about the care that they receive or do not receive. Through understanding patient reactions to various changes in healthcare (of which there are many these days), you can actually gain a better appreciation of the diverse views of patients. One thing to consider, however, is that the patient voice on Twitter does not represent all patients. After all, who can represent all patients effectively? While there are many empowered e-patients out there, I would argue that they do not come close to representing the patients who you may care for who cannot access the internet, cannot read, or are too ill or impaired to participate in social networking. Interestingly, there are a lot of caregivers on Twitter though, and their experiences certainly do shed light on the stressors facing this unique group.
- Make lasting relationships with new colleagues: This sounds far-fetched but after years on Twitter, I can personally vouch for the fact that relationships on Twitter are in fact very real. This took me a while to appreciate…and the more time goes on, the more I appreciate it. It seems odd to form a close bond with someone that you hardly know. In fact, what Twitter does so effectively is to exploit the “strength of the weak tie,” a sociologic construct that highlights the people we may get the most valuable information from are not close connections but weak ones. And Twitter is a series of weak connections. However, there are weak connections that become strong ones. Case in point, this weekend, I met Ryan Madanick who is the moderator of #mededchat and someone who I have communicated with on Twitter for years even suggesting we had a “critical mass” of #meded tweeters to start a tweetchat. When we finally met up face-to-face this weekend while he was in Chicago for Digestive Diseases Week, we were able to dive deeper into a conversation since we already had a basic understanding of each other. While I have not met everyone on Twitter that I interact with, I am certain that when I do come across someone I have such a relationship with, it will be an immediate connection.
- Keep up with hobbies: Physicians are a group very vulnerable to burnout and work stress, which can certainly interfere with their ability to keep up with their hobbies. However, one interesting thing that is often not discussed is that through Twitter, you can stay a little more connected to whatever outside interests you have. Whether that is to catch a glimpse of whatever is going on in your favorite TV shows, follow your favorite sports teams or celebrities, or network with others who enjoy whatever you do, it is easy to do on Twitter. In fact, it’s often an as easy as following the hashtags that appear at the bottom of the TV screen. While you may or may not enter the fray, it certainly is fun to hear what others are saying (especially if that show is #gameofthrones for example).
So while the staying power of Twitter remains unseen, it’s worth a try now. While all good things will ultimately come to an end, Twitter has certainly created a unique social media platform that has transformed the way we live and work. And if history is any lesson, Twitter will likely pave the way for the next “big thing.”