The medical conversations are happening on Twitter, not Facebook, and that’s a good thing

You can follow Iltifat Husain MD on Twitter @IltifatMD

When twitter initially launched I was largely skeptical on how it could be utilized in medicine.  Initially I thought Facebook was a better option due to the ability to use more than 140 characters. Overtime though, it has become clear the medical conversations are happening on Twitter, not Facebook.

An example of this is when we highlighted the #FOAMed movement — Free Open Access to Medicine Education.

We highlighted how Physicians around the country are using twitter and social media to teach and learn in a dynamic way. In particular, we referenced 11 critical FOAMed resources for Emergency Medicine.  Nowhere was Facebook mentioned.

I think that’s a good thing.

Mainly because Facebook’s privacy settings are so nebulous.  Over time I’ve come to realize Facebook is starting to turn into the old Internet Explorer — bloated. Twitter is simple, straightforward, and you’re not worried about messing around with various profile settings due to updated policies every few months. Even though I was an early adopter of Facebook, getting an account during my college years months after it’s launch, I stopped using it a few months ago and haven’t looked back.

On my news feed in twitter, not only can I keep up to date on the latest medical literature, but I can see debates between my fellow Physicians about the various literature as well in real time.

I would argue there is a higher level of peer review that happens on Twitter at times than by some of the largest medical journals.  You don’t see this high level of medical conversation on Facebook.  Instead you get status updates about peoples miscellaneous thoughts or another invite to some random event you don’t plan on attending.

Further, Facebook doesn’t carry the medical conversation forward — it’s too declarative.  Twitter is not.

Grown up medical conversations are happening on Twitter, not Facebook.


Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of iPrescribeApps, a platform for prescribing apps to patients. Dr. Husain has given lectures on digital medicine globally. He went to North Carolina State University for undergrad and went to medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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13 Responses to The medical conversations are happening on Twitter, not Facebook, and that’s a good thing

  1. Greg Matthews May 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    I think it’s a good point. There’s nothing wrong with MDs using facebook as a place to share content that is truly patient-centric, but for real conversation and interaction between MDs and the data/information they share, Twitter is the place to be. As a side note, my team recently presented an analysis of Medical Education conversations on Twitter at #MMed13 – slides can be found here:

    • Iltifat Husain, MD May 29, 2013 at 8:21 am #

      Agree. Patient centric content is okay for Facebook — although if I was a patient I wouldn’t trust Facebooks changing privacy guidelines. But for physician interaction it’s all about twitter.

      • Judith Atkinson June 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

        As a patient I can say that twitter is far more useful than Facebook.

  2. Chris Porter MD (@PorterOnSurg) May 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Good post, Dr Husain. Some forums are better for certain purposes.

    Social media offers a near-total void of conversations about clinical management of general surgery topics, with the exception of a few good bloggers – and those are rarely conversations, much less group conversations.

    However, a Facebook discussion group appeared recently with some interesting characteristics which I believe are important to productive dialogue.

    1) It’s a narrow topic (hernia).
    2) It’s closed, by request of its members. Every week someone suggests opening up the conversation to patients and medical industry – group members immediately respond that they will stop using the forum if anyone other than hernia doctors is reading. Real cases, with images, are presented for group input.
    3) Many members know one another in the real world. Credibility, status, friendship, and other important social factors are at play.
    4) The group leader sets the tone. The goal and the rules of the group are therefore clear. Discussion is light-hearted but professional. Negative criticism of other doctors and unfounded proclamations are challenged.

    The privacy issue is indeed a concern, and I’m glad the members are ignoring the dreaded liability exposure.

    I agree there is much more medical conversation happening at Twitter, but the forum can’t easily facilitate non-synchronous conversations about specific cases. Perhaps my specialty still awaits critical mass or early-adopter leadership to start a tweet-chat. But, presently the best discussion in gen surg is on Facebook.

    • Iltifat Husain, MD May 29, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Is this an open forum? So can everyone comment on this? Or is it exclusive to group. From what your comments show, it seems like LinkedIn is a better option for your group. Again, Facebooks privacy policies are so nebulous and I wouldn’t trust Facebook to store any medical comments. Instead, LinkedIn has private groups, clear privacy policies, etc.

      Appreciate the comments!

      • Chris Porter MD (@PorterOnSurg) June 1, 2013 at 12:19 am #

        Closed group – just surgeons.

        Data trust might be generational. HIIPA and malpractice liability taught a generation to think constantly about the worst-case scenario, in terms of conversations and documents. Facebook taught the next generation to share their every thought with peers first, worry later, if at all.

  3. Steve Levine May 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    I join all of you in seeing the benefits of Twitter for the conversations you’re promoting, but … just saw a tweet from a physician, an academic health center physician and (per his Twitter profile) a supporter of #FOAMed. He was tweeting about mythis and facts related to the HPV vaccine. Then I saw that the article he linked came from Family Circle magazine.

  4. George Margelis June 3, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    Twitter is very useful for short sharp bits of information, but I struggle to use it for more detailed discussions, mainly due to the time difference between Australia and the USA. I find LinkedIn groups better, but it seems many of our peers are not willing to put their thoughts online.

  5. Susan Zager June 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    As a patient, I am thrilled that medical conversations are happening on Twitter. It is so exciting also the way that physicians are taking the time to interact with patients on one of my favorite hashtags #BCSM (breast cancer social media).

  6. Ric Todhunter August 31, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Facebook and Twitter cannot be considered to be the same vehicle of information at all. Twitter does not allow the interaction that Facebook does nor the dissemination of good FOAM (Free Open Access Meducation) to the Twitter-averse masses in need of Medical Education – but the extensive uptake of Facebook in the population means that FOAM can be distributed almost surreptitiously to my trainees.

    As a long time active contributor to FOAM in both arenas (Twitter and Facebook) I can categorically say that the two platforms work exceptionally well in combination and only partially as well in isolation.

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