So how do doctors use Twitter? It’s a question that seems to want a better answer than I can come up with. While I’d love to imagine that our efforts are somehow improving patient care and making our lives easier, we’re not quite there yet.
So what are doctors doing on Twitter? Here’s what I see:
Were hangin’ with everyone else. If you peek at doctors and who they follow you’ll see that we’re listening mostly to non-physicians. Sure there are those who keep it clubby with lots of docs, but it’s the exception. And there are those who’s medical status is only loosely referred to in their bio and hard to identify in their feed. My Twitter life mirrors my personal life: doctors are only a piece of it.
Not talkin’ about sick people. While doctors tend to share medically-related links of interest, few seem to be discussing issues related to clinical management. This may stem from the fact that there are so few MDs on Twitter. My world would be different if I had 50-100 pediatric gastroenterologists following me. Quick questions could be mini-crowdsourced for instant feedback. As the world's only pediatric gastroenterologist on Twitter this is tricky.
Lots of talkin’ about ourselves. For some doctors Twitter remains a platform for showcasing their achievements. If they don’t have a new blog post, quote in the New York Times or something that revolves around them, you may never hear from them. This is Twitter as the home-brew press release. Not a great way to build relationships but it works to build the online doc’s personal brand.
Medical mindcasting. Twitter is often associated with the question, ‘what are you doing?’ But minute-to-minute narration of when we’re getting dressed is less common among physicians. One obvious exception is pediatrician Dr. Cameron Kaiser, @doctorlinguist, who smashes the charts at nearly 40K updates, many of which detail his crazy dietary habits and penchant for broken computers. Dr. Kaiser notwithstanding, this traditional Twitter narrative seems to be less the trend among physicians. I see what Jay Rosen from NYU (@jayrosen_nyu) has referred to as mindcasting. Physicians it would seem tend to gravitate closer towards more deliberate agendas tailored for their followers. Perhaps it’s their lack of time that limits their Twitter content.
Goofin’ off. Doctor or not, so many see Twitter’s casual repartee as the reward. No deliberate agendas or social media policy, just another avenue for simple socialization on our own terms. If nothing else, this dialogue offers a window into what we think about when we leave the exam room. For some good old-fashioned goofin' off, Texas style, check out surgeon Rachael Keilin (@lipodoc) or her husband Ron Hekier (@ronhekier).
So regarding Twitter and doctors, I wish its role was more dramatic. No matter how you use it, Twitter remains a great place to build relationships with people in your sphere of influence.