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Doctors Who Use Twitter

Doctors Who Use Twitter

twitter-bird-logo-beach-ss-1920A survey released today by the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 61 percent of Americans go online for health information, and the majority of them have turned to user-generated health information. But a quick scan through peer-reviewed journals reveals only a handful of articles, and no evidence-based guidelines, to guide doctors on the use of social media.
Rita Rubin [ ]  – in a piece for USAToday – provides a nice article titled “Some doctors join Facebook, Twitter; others wary.”  In the article, she highlights a number of issues and pointers that doctors need to be aware of when contemplating using Twitter and other social media outlets in their practice.
She uses Jeff Livingston, an Irving, Texas, OB-GYN physician as an example of one doctor who is using social media in the right way.  Dr. Livingston appears to be the push behind MacArthur OB-GYN’s use of social media, and has embraced social media in a comprehensive way, utilizing three of the big platforms out there: (1) Blogs, (2) Facebook, and (3) Twitter.

The article notes that “But few doctors have embraced social media as enthusiastically as he has. Concerns about time and patient privacy have deterred many,” and in fact notes an observation by Westby Fisher, an Evanston, Ill., cardiac electrophysiologist, who wrote last month on his blog, that many doctors don’t avoid social media because they don’t know how to use technology, but rather: “… they avoid the Internet because they enjoy the benefits of anonymity, privacy, efficiency and legal protection that come with dropping off the grid.”

The privacy issue was also echoed by Dr. Livingston: “”What I’m watching for is that no private personal health information gets relayed via social media,” says Livingston, who keeps close tabs on the page with his iPhone and iPad.”
One way he remains sensitive to that fact is that he may take a common question that he hears, and takes it as an opportunity to turn it into a general Question & Answer on the practice group’s Facebook Page.

Recently, Livingston wondered whether one new patient’s posted question — could her fetus acquire an infection if she swam in a public pool? — was too personal.
But then he remembered that many women ask that same question every summer, so he decided that posting an answer — “It is perfectly OK” — on Facebook would serve all his pregnant patients, not just the one who posted the query.”

Acknowledging that problem, the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs last month passed a resolution to “study the issue of physicians’ use of social networking, as exemplified on sites such as Facebook and Twitter” and report to the AMA’s House of Delegates at its meeting in November.
Kevin Pho, MD, over at, provides some useful advise and observations on how physicians should best use twitter.  Among the pointers:

  • Patient privacy is paramount. Do not discuss individual cases or provide patient advice via Twitter.
  • Use Twitter to point your patients to trustworthy online health information sources.
  • Use Twitter as a tool to promote your practice’s brand. More and more patients are using Twitter; those who do are likely to feel positive about their physicians using it as well. More than just a fad, Pho says that Twitter is here to stay and offers tremendous potential.
  • Remind your patients using Twitter: Be careful whom you follow. Anyone can sign up for Twitter claiming to be a physician.

Dr. Pho rightly points out that the 1st item on the list – privacy – should always be the highest priority when contemplating a “Tweet.”
Pauline Chen MD had a great article in the NYTimes where she summed up her own use of social media benefits as:
“Social media has kept me connected with colleagues and a few former patients, allowed me to stay up-to-date with certain health care and medical education issues, and helped me to keep abreast of Web-based resources that might be useful to those I care for. It has also taught me a tremendous amount about the experiences of patients and caregivers, information I’m not sure I would have had access to had I not been engaged online.”

Other articles of interest:

Medicine in the Age of Twitter
When Your Doctor Is on Twitter
Physician 2.0: A Steady Stream of Innovation

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