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.