I have become so enamored with Twitter that I have been writing less for this blog…. which got me thinking….
Both my Twitter account and this blog serve the same purpose – to serve as a “tool kit” for medical students, residents and practicing docs. But it’s really interesting how different they are in accomplishing this goal.
Twitter is the equivalent of the “surgeon’s lounge” – comments about interesting things you’ve seen or heard, showing people something in the news, or short pieces of advice. Writing for a blog is more like sitting down in a quiet space with a colleague to discuss a topic, work on a project or give advice.
There is one important aspect of Twitter that is particularly interesting for physicians. If there is serious breaking news, Twitter will probably hear it first. A good example is how the CDC uses Twitter. It can also be used to update everyone in a medical school or hospital. Another interesting use of Twitter for physicians is “tweeting” medical meetings.
There is a learning curve for all social media. Twitter, in particular, can become a remarkable time waster with little benefit. If you are a busy student, resident or physician and want to use Twitter efficiently, here are some ideas that might help
- A busy resident told me that he uses Twitter only for the news. He gave up reading the newspaper and watching CNN to follow them on Twitter. He reads the headlines and uses the link to read only the articles that interest him .
- It’s not Facebook. Anyone who starts tweeting about where they are going to get coffee gets “unfollowed” immediately. For busy professionals, Twitter is not the best way to connect with friends. It is, however, a fantastic way to connect you to communities, causes, issues, etc. The way this is done is with hashtags (markers for a common theme). For example, people interested in medical education use #meded.
- It’s not email. You don’t have to read them all. If you have a minute, skim what’s there, but don’t worry about the rest. Twitter is supposed to be ephemeral.
On last (but incredibly important) thought. Using Twitter (or any social media) is different if you are in medicine. Every company has guidelines about using social media. In medicina, we have a standard for how we can discuss what we do that is different than the rest of society. Here’s some rules that will keep you safe.
- Do not (ever) discuss a patient, post a picture of a patient or put anything online that could identify a patient. This is the law (HIPAA) and it is our ethical and professional obligation.
- Do not give medical advice via social media. If you are contacted by a patient that you are really worried about, the only thing you can do is tell them which office/hospital to go to or where to call.
- Do not put negative comments about a colleague or institution on social media. If you need to ventilate, find a friend and go out somewhere. Think of social media as the “microphone in the elevator”. Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want someone in the future to “overhear”. Digital = permanent.
One of the best guides on the use of social media in medicine comes from Austrialia and New Zealand. It has some very illustrative scenarios and is beautifully (and succinctly) written. If you are in medicine and using social media, it’s well worth the time to read this document.