Why Doctors Should Participate In Twitter Chats

Dr Matthew Katz, a community-based doctor dedicated to improving cancer care and health empowerment, was the guest on the latest  #HCHLITSS  Twitter chat. For those who may be unfamiliar with the phenomenon of a tweet chat – it is a pre-arranged chat that happens on Twitter through the use of updates called tweets. It includes a predefined #hashtag which links the tweets together in a virtual conversation. The #HCHLITSS acronym stands for Health Communication Health Literacy & Social Science, Of particular interest to me during the stimulating chat was Dr Katz’s view of what physicians and other healthcare providers can learn from participating in Twitter chats. According to Dr Katz, it is a way to listen in on patient concerns.

In fact so passionate is Dr Katz on the topic of healthcare social media that he believes it is a doctor’s moral obligation to add their voices and expertise to the discussions happening online.

In this Dr Katz echoes the words of Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social  Media.

These [social media] tools help us reach so many more people; we can bring shared interactions into our practice and that is powerful … This isn’t an addition to your job. This is part of your job.  This is a conversation, and that is what we are trained to do … This is where our patients are these days and this is where we need to reach them. We can engage learners, patients and peers, and we are not limited by geography or time –

Social media is a radical shift in the way we communicate. The healthcare conversation is no longer a one-way narrative but is evolving into a global, participatory discussion. One of the most powerful ways I see this happening is in the modality of the tweet chat. The role Twitter plays in breaking down patient/provider barriers, disseminating and expanding the reach of healthcare information, widening social networks and co-creating a collaborative model of shared health information is for me one of the most exciting developments in social media. In the words of chat participant Elin Silveous, it represents: