Posted in #HCSM, Twitter

Can A Hashtag Change Healthcare? The Impact of Healthcare Tweet Chats

tweet-follow1Can A Hashtag Change Healthcare?  

The first time I read this quote from Dana Lewis, moderator of #hcsm the premier tweet chat on healthcare, I was gripped by the notion of how Twitter and in particular tweet chats could influence the way we practise healthcare.

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 one of the most exciting developments in social media.

What Is A Tweet 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. Most tweet chats follow a common format of a moderator who introduces pre-arranged topics relevant to the chat and keeps the conversation on track. The chats usually last one hour and a transcript of tweets is available after the chat has ended.

Symplur is doing an impressive job of compiling all of the healthcare hashtags and providing chat transcripts in The Healthcare Hashtag Project. The goal of the project is to make the use of healthcare social media and Twitter more accessible for the healthcare community as a whole (a full list and a tweet chat calendar of meeting times can be found on the Symplur website).

What Is The Impact Of Tweet Chats On Healthcare?

As a relatively new technological innovation, the use of Twitter as a modality for health communication is only now beginning to be explored with particular emphasis on the role Twitter may play in contributing to health based conversations directed at individual, community, and societal levels.

Many times, people’s choices in terms of Personal Health Practices (PHP) are context dependent and socially constructed. Healthcare tweet chats have tremendous potential to motivate participants and encourage change. Much of this change comes from peer-to-peer support which has been shown to be highly effective in motivating change. Many participants share conversational and informational knowledge that they believe is valuable both to themselves and others.

Tweet from participant in the #BCCEU (Breast Cancer Social Media Europe) tweet chat
Tweet from participant in the #BCCEU (Breast Cancer Social Media Europe) tweet chat

Studies show that individuals enrolled in meaningful social networks have protective properties in terms of overall health and wellbeing. Healthcare tweet chats provide participants with a sense of community and valuable opportunities for meaningful exchange and positive interactions.

The impact of digital technology in healthcare is leading to changing expectations by health consumers who, along with a desire to share information and connect with others, increasingly want to interact and engage with their healthcare providers. Twitter has also facilitated the emergence of  the “patient opinion leader” an individual who is seen as an expert in chronic conditions such as cancer.  Gunther Eysenbach refers to this group as “Apomediaries” – individuals that assist in the process of information searching but do not act as a gatekeeper.

So, what’s in it for healthcare practitioners?

Dr Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V) of Baylor College notes of social media “the greatest value of this medium is the breakdown of barriers that have traditionally come between doctor and patient.” It is encouraging to see the increasing participation by doctors in many healthcare tweet chats, reaching out and sharing information, but also listening too.

Twitter offers opportunities for healthcare to reach out to patients in new and valuable ways.

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 – Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social  Media.

Another striking feature is Twitter’s crowd-sourcing capacity which allows health consumers, researchers and practitioners tap into a global source of advice, support and information. Twitter also provides a unique opportunity to learn from patients’ direct experience shared during these chats.

If healthcare innovators and providers wish to remain relevant and connected to digitally enabled patients, they need to go where the conversations are – more and more those conversations are happening on Twitter and the evolving dynamic of the tweet chat is the best place to find them.


Eysenbach, G. (2008). Medicine 2.0: Social networking, collaboration, participation, apomediation, and openness. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 10(3), e22. doi:10.2196/jmir.1030

Posted in #HCSM, Twitter

The Rise of Patient Communities on Twitter

I am a big fan of Symplur and the service they provide through their healthcare  hashtag project for those of us interested in the health conversations which take place on Twitter.  For over 2 years, Symplur has collected health conversations on Twitter and analyzed them across thousands of variables. The result is produced in this video, a visual representation of   c. 2,000 different health communities or topics.

The green dots symbolizes patient centric topics, while pink encompasses more professional/provider topics. Larger bubbles signifies larger volume of conversations within that community. The data are visualized dynamically over a 2 year period.

Here’s what Symplur research uncovered:

What we discovered was somewhat of a surprise for some. From the start, many considered Twitter as a kind of virtual water cooler, mostly used by healthcare professionals. It’s been thought that the need for privacy would push patients to more closed platforms. Twitter as you know, is totally public and should not be considered private.  However, from what you can clearly observe, the green bubbles have grown in numbers and significance quite dramatically in recent months. This indicates a strong growth of conversations in existing patient communities on Twitter and a strong growth of new patient communities on Twitter within our dataset.

Posted in #HCSM

Ideagoras 2012: Healthcare Social Media

Thomas Lee will be speaking about healthcare social media at Ideagoras 2012

During the summer, I was invited to attend Ideagoras 2012, taking place in Madrid next week. Unfortunately it clashed with some other commitments this month. However, the good news is that for those of us who can’t attend in person, we can follow online via the live stream which will be embedded at

So what is Ideagoras? When I first read the term I was intrigued. Here’s how Symplur’s Thomas Lee, one of the invited speakers, explains it:

“Ideagoras” is one of those words that will make people stop and think.  It sounds so intriguing, but what exactly does it mean?  Well, according to Wikipedia, the term refers to, “places on the Internet where large numbers of people or businesses gather to exchange ideas and solutions”.  And that’s exactly what both (the company) and Ideagoras 2012 (the conference) are all about.

Thomas  explains how the conference came about through joining forces online with Angel Gonzalez, the founder and CEO of  Ideagoras, “a company that creates truly engaging relationships through free, honest and relevant conversations between healthcare brands and consumers”.

Thomas will be speaking about healthcare social media, specifically Twitter, it’s evolution in the healthcare industry, its use among healthcare professionals and patients, Symplur’s  healthcare hashtag project, and the importance of social media analytics for business.   Other keynote speakers at Ideagoras 2012

  • Marc Vidal (@marcvidal):  Entrepreneurship in the new Collaborative Economy
  • Antonio Ibarra (@Contraejemplo):  Fostering Social Media in Big Pharmas
  • Francisco Lupiañez (@flupianez):  Evidence Based Social Media
  • Michaela Endemann (@wissit):  Some bits about Healthcare Social Media in German Speaking Countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland
  • Anabel Salazar (@salazaranabel):  Dr2.0 Like Me
  • Christina Anthogalidis (@binaryhealth):  Physician & Consumer Insights in Social Media
  • Elena Sáinz (@educadies):  Empowering patients through the Social Web
  • Verónica Botet(@veronicabotet):  Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
  • Paul Connolly (@PGConnolly):  From Inspiration to Reality: the Power of Light

It sure sounds like it will be an interesting meeting. I am sorry to be missing it next week, but will be following along online.