Twitter for healthcare professionals: useful or a waste of time?


An unusual review has just been published by Clinical Infectious Diseases by Debra Goff, Ravina Kullar and Jason Newland entitled Review of Twitter for Infectious Diseases Clinicians: Useful or a Waste of Time?”. As a keen reader of the journal, and a keen Twitter user, I found the article to be a fascinating read.

The authors make a strong argument that Twitter is a better fit with our “always on” culture than traditional forms of communication: and cite the fact that ‘UpToDate’ has pretty much replaced textbooks. However, I was interested to read that around 1.5% of all Twitter users are healthcare professionals (75,000 / 5,000,000). Does this mean that healthcare professionals are underrepresented on Twitter, since around 6% of the UK workforce work in the healthcare sector (1.4 m / 23 m)?

One interesting section addresses the accuracy of data on Twitter, which you’d expect to be somewhat flaky. However, an interesting analysis of tweets related to the H1H1 swine flu outbreak identified a surprising degree of accuracy. For example, 90% of the tweets contained a reference to source information where considered necessary, and <5% of tweets were classified as misinformation / speculation.

The article serves as a “how-to” guide, with a basic overview of what Twitter is and how it works. There’s also a useful list of people and organizations to follow to get you started (including ‘lil old me, I’m delighted to say)! The table of ‘Twitter Terminology’ is especially useful: this would have been a much-used resource for me if available when I started out on Twitter and didn’t know my retweet from my favorite!

From a personal viewpoint, I was pretty resistant to the idea of Twitter. How did I feel about putting myself ‘out there’ is such a public space? I have to admit though, my experience of Twitter for professional use has been unanimously positive:

  • It’s a very personalized newsfeed – I pick up on a lot of useful new data.
  • I’ve not had any ‘trolling’ whatsoever. Yes, some challenging, frank discussions. But nothing nasty.
  • I try hard to fit Twitter into my schedule and not let it take over my life. My general rule is that what goes out on Twitter is what I do anyway – so it’s pretty much time-neutral. In reality, it’s not quite time-neutral, but it’s pretty close.
  • It goes hand in hand with this blog. Sometimes 140 characters just won’t do – and that’s where this blog comes in!
  • I’ve made some really useful new contacts (not least Debbie Goff and Jason Newland, two of the review’s authors).
  • Live-tweeting conferences is a lot of fun; it has added a lot of value to my conference experience, and has served as notes for more comprehensive reports. (My conference experience has been enhanced further by Symplur Healthcare Hashtags analytics, which is also mentioned in the review.)

So, ‘Twitter for healthcare professionals: useful or a waste of time?’ It’s unrealistic to expect Twitter use to be completely time-neutral, but I do think that you can get close to that and add a new dimension to your worklife.

Image: Charis Tsevis.


9 thoughts on “Twitter for healthcare professionals: useful or a waste of time?

  1. Jon,
    I tend to agree with your comments and I will be reading this article very soon that you reference. I have found Twitter (and others) to be an invaluable resource on current issues related to my research. I like the flexibility of writing on Blogs and Posts and tweeting about them as a way to both disseminate my thoughts/research AND creating new colleagues or audiences. Certainly, “buyer beware” is my motto with it but that’s my motto with hard copy articles too. So, as long as one is aware and careful, I believe it is a valuable tool for practitioners and researchers. @RodneyRohde


  2. Jon – Nice commentary on an interesting paper written by 3 great authors. I appreciate the fact that you mention that Twitter allows for personal newsfeed and is time neutral. You get what you want out of it! It’s very useful to my practice in Infection Prevention. Btw-We met at the tea house in San Francisco during ID Week 2013 with Dr. Dan Uslan. I’ve been following you on Twitter since then. Great work! – Angela


    • Hi Angela, yes I remember our meeting at the tea house in San Francisco very well.Twitter is also a lot of fun!


  3. Really enjoyed your review of Twitter Jon. Angela’s right in her comment that you ‘get out what you put into it’. I’ve been an avid social media user for a few years and always impressed with the content and engagement on key topics such as hand hygiene and infection prevention. There’s a lot to learn from some of the experts sharing and they often are curators of what’s most relevant to help save you time and effort. Thanks again for sharing.


  4. Dear Jon,

    Many thanks for these meaningful insights !

    I also think it is useful in more than a way —

    1- As a pure observer (being uptodate with the hot articles)
    2- As an actor (promoting our articles, building a network, interacting /having fun during conferences)
    3- As a data scientist (unleashing the power of Twitter data for further IPC studies)
    4- As an advocate to raise awareness on public health campaign, scientific controversies (if enough followers..)



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