Physicians Using Twitter

A recent report from Forrester Research indicates that the use of social networking websites among people aged 35 to 54 increased by 60 percent in the last year. Twitter and Facebook have become popular among federal centers like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCemergency), hospitals like the University of Maryland Medical System (University of Maryland Medical Center – @UMMC), and even individual doctors.

Tweeting Doctors Can Change Healthcare Delivery

Through Twitter, doctors are able to post updates about the events of their day, connect with other healthcare workers, communicate with and inform patients, and even document surgeries and procedures. Results of a recent study by the American Telemedicine Association indicate that doctors and patients have seen beneficial outcomes from using Twitter to connect. Some healthcare providers, like pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Vartabedian, MD (@Doctor_V), chose to use Twitter as a means to extend their web presence and communicate with existing and potential patients. Clinical nurse Phil Baumann notes additional medical uses for Twitter, including:

  1. Disaster alerting and response,
  2. Diabetes management including blood glucose tracking,
  3. Drug safety alerts from the FDA,
  4. Biomedical device data capture and reporting,
  5. Shift-bidding for healthcare professionals,
  6. Diagnostic brainstorming,
  7. Rare disease tracking and resource connection,
  8. Smoking cessation assistance,
  9. Broadcasting infant care tips for new patients, and
  10. Post-discharge patient follow-up and consultation.

Dr. Joseph Kvedar (@jkvedar), the Director of the Center for Connected Health and iCons in Medicine Member, describes Twitter as “a method of mass communication” that is real-time and “designed for mobility.” The ability to constantly update information also makes Twitter particularly appealing to government health organizations such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCemergency) and the UK’s NHS (@NHSChoices). Using Twitter, these agencies are able to provide up-to-the-minute information regarding disease outbreaks, contact numbers to call for assistance, and other pertinent information. Medical associations such as the Radiological Society of North America (@RSNA), Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (@HIMSS), and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (@BIOConvention) also use Twitter to keep their members informed about current news, promote events and meetings, and provide a sense of community.

While some providers use Twitter to connect with their patients and peers, others use it to provide information and updates during medical procedures. Recently surgeons in Iowa used Twitter to allow a woman’s family to follow the progress of her surgery in real-time. The Children’s Medical Center in Dallas provided updates when a father’s kidney was transplanted into his son, and the Henry Ford Medical Center (Henry Ford Health System – @henryfordnews) has tweeted during several procedures since January. These updates provide individuals who might not be comfortable watching a surgical procedure to still gain an understanding of the process and a chance to ask questions.

For the 61 percent of Americans who search online for medical advice, Twitter may not provide enough information. The social networking website Facebook allows healthcare workers or medical associations to connect with colleagues and patients. For the reported 55 percent of patients who want to be able to communicate with their doctors via email (according to a Manhattan Research study) it can offer another means of communication. Dr. William Cooper, a cardiothoracic surgeon, says that Facebook presents a way to always be available to his patients. According to Pauline Chen, MD (@paulinechen), it is unclear if engagement via Facebook and Twitter helps or hinders a patient-doctor relationship.

This concern is echoed by other physicians, including Dr. Sachin Jain, a resident physician at Bringham and Woman’s Hospital, who has accepted Facebook friend requests from patients, but “wondered about the appropriateness of the interaction.” In addition to the expectation that a physician would be “instantly available 24/7,” some doctors worry about the security of Facebook and other social networking websites, as well as potential HIPAA violations and litigation concerns. For many physicians, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media are seen as “blurring the line between work and private life” – something that may cause some hesitation and discomfort.

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The New York Times on Twitter UsersUSA Today/Science Fair on the Medical Uses of TwitterAssociated Press on Tweeting During OperationsOn Medical Associations Using TwitterDr. Pauline Chen on TwitterCNN on Physicians on Facebook – More on Physicians and Medical Professionals Using Twitter

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10 Responses to Physicians Using Twitter

  1. Phil Baumann says:

    As much as I’ve been evangelizing using Twitter in healthcare (my 140 Healthcare Uses post was really to start a conversation), there are many other concerns we will have to work out.

    Healthcare professionals will have to be mindful of the boundaries they must respect – real-time two-way communication media like Twitter make it very easy to cross these boundaries.

    Nevertheless, there’s tremendous value in these services and I hope more health care professionals start to understand these technologies – neither hyper them nor fear them.

    The telephone was once a shiny new toy and I’m sure there were many fears about using the telephone in health care. We worked out those problems then, and I’m sure we’ll work them out now.

    For the other side:

    66 Ominous Predictions About Twitter in Health Care:

    http://philbaumann.com/2009/09/09/66-ominous-predictions-about-twitter-in-healthcare/

  2. […] Physicians Using Twitter « iCons in Medicine iconsinmedicine.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/physicians-using-twitter – view page – cached A recent report from Forrester Research indicates that the use of social networking websites among people aged 35 to 54 increased by 60 percent in the last year. Twitter and Facebook have become popular among federal centers like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCemergency), hospitals like the University of Maryland Medical System (University of Maryland Medical Center – @UMMC), and even individual doctors. — From the page […]

  3. […] Articles iCons in Medicine, 15 September 2009 SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Physicians Using Twitter", url: "http://articles.icmcc.org/2009/09/16/physicians-using-twitter/" }); […]

  4. Alex says:

    Good article, good point: the “appropriateness of the interaction” issue is problematic. For me the solution is simple: know your intent and let the Hippocratic oath guide the ‘appropriateness’ of your interactions in and out of the clinical setting.

  5. Dr. George says:

    Having personal and business profiles on Twitter and Facebook can end the worry about revealing too much personal information to patients.

  6. […] médicos por su parte, aunque ada vez más utilizan las nuevas tecnologías para comunicarse con sus pacientes, aún son reticentes en cuanto a su uso generalizado. Un reciente […]

  7. […] un blog etc… es más un asunto personal y de su talante comunicador. Manuales de uso o ideas para utilizarlos no faltan en la red. Lo importante es que detrás de ello hay un reconocimineto a […]

  8. cancer center…

    […]Physicians Using Twitter « iCons in Medicine[…]…

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