Even as social media use among physicians gains popularity, I continue to hear doubts echoing from my fellow medical students, residents, and attendings, particularly about the use of Twitter.
Many of them ask how using Twitter has benefited me, and my answer almost always makes them stop and think.
My life has been enriched by the network of intelligent and forward-thinking people I have connected with on Twitter–many of them medical students, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or other professionals who have made the leap into social media.
I have become a more well-rounded person and a more knowledgeable and confident future physician–and I’ve learned so much.
Why should medical professionals consider joining the Twitterverse? The following are just a few reasons.
Stay up to date on news and literature.
Doctors (and med students!) are busy and don’t always have time to seek out what’s happening in the world. Twitter conveniently brings news and research directly to your feed.
As a medical student and future pediatrician, I follow accounts of official medical associations, such as the AAP (@AmerAcadPeds) and AAMC (@AAMCToday), leading medical journals, including JAMA (@JAMA_current) and The Lancet (@TheLancet), as well as several different kinds of physicians who frequently tweet interesting new articles.
I first learned about last year’s pertussis epidemic in Seattle on Twitter, and have followed tweets about this year’s flu throughout flu season. I frequently stumble upon studies that may help me in practice; last week I learned that cefdinir and iron-supplemented infant formulas may cause non-bloody red stool when taken together. I also follow various media news outlets, such as CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal to keep up with current events.
Share ideas and learn from others.
Twitter is an open forum of conversation for the world. In my opinion, this is the most valuable use of Twitter.
I follow people who tweet about things that interest me, both medically related and not. As a medical student, I’ve used Twitter as a study tool, asking questions and gleaning knowledge from physicians, residents, and other students. I listen and converse in various tweet chats, such as the mobile health (#mhealth), healthcare social media (#hcsm), and medical education (#meded) chats. I hear patients share their stories and follow blogs.
Some of my favorite blogs are written by parents of children with special needs. NoahsDad.com is a fantastic blog about Noah, a beautiful boy with Down Syndrome. The post of his birth story brought me near tears and provided an intimate look at his parents’ reaction to his diagnosis. I learned what they liked and disliked about their doctors’ delivery of the news, and how much they loved their son.
Blogs like this have given me a new perspective on this special families’ challenges and triumphs. This will undoubtedly help me care for my patients with special needs in the future.
This does not mean doctoring patients on the Internet, following my patients on Twitter, or anything of the sort. Patients are online, though, and many are on Twitter. As medical professionals, we can help disseminate accurate health information on the web. Twitter provides a great avenue for physicians to steer people to reputable websites for health information, dispel myths, share helpful articles, and educate people on medical issues.
For example, I tweet and retweet articles from the CDC about vaccines, parenting advice from HealthyChildren.org, and various other health tidbits from academic medical institutions.
Perhaps my favorite reason to tweet is that it’s fun! I love spending time on Twitter. I learn something new every day and read many hilarious or otherwise entertaining tweets along the way. I’ve connected with people I never thought I would, all with a myriad of ideas and opinions. The environment is so dynamic.
Twitter is an exciting mode of communication, and is something I engage in because I enjoy it. If you’re thinking about embarking on your own Twitter journey, but are worried about time commitment, just remember, what you do with it or how much time you spend on it is completely up to you. You don’t even need to be particularly tech-savvy to use it. It requires only the ability to type and click, I promise!
Of course, always be careful what you tweet and use good judgment. While Twitter may not be for everyone, I have found it both personally and professionally rewarding, and encourage all health professionals to give it a spin.
(If you’d like to get started on Twitter, Dr. Ryan Madanick has written a great Twitter primer for doctors here.)