Why doctors should be careful on Twitter

Doctor, do you Tweet?

No, not really. I registered on Twitter some years ago and began but did not keep it up, although I do have a number of Twitter followers. When I first checked Twitter out, the dominant drivel of narcissists pretty much turned me off.

Were you also slow to start using the Internet?

No, I quickly recognized a huge upside to a well-utilized Internet, so we were very early in establishing its medical usefulness, like in 1996.

Do you agree with those who say that poor communication is the cause of most human conflicts and that improving communication is the key to solving them?

Yes and no. For example, perfect communication of ill will is unlikely to produce good will.

Do you favor instant communication, which is a hallmark of modern civilization?

Instant communication can be more a curse than a blessing, because it deprives the receiver of think-time or time to cogitate before replying.

Are you the guy who said information on the Internet was about as trustworthy as conversation you hear at a bar?

I am that guy. Still true. But that caution also applies to what you read on paper, hear on the radio, or see on television. You have to be careful about what you believe.

Are you the guy who called blogging ultimate communication anarchy, in which the blogger can be author, reviewer, editor, copy editor, editorial board, owner, publisher, censor, advertiser, sponsor, and marketing publicist, all at the same time, and fake the whole thing?

Yes. Guilty as charged.

Well then, I can see why you don’t Tweet. You must still be influenced by Alexander Pope’s ancient dictum: “Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

Yeah. Pretty much.

Now, do you know see value in Twitter?

Yes, I do.

Millions of users and the marketplace have shaken it out. Its value includes speed, when that is useful; conciseness, to prevent verbosity; capacity for prospective selectivity of sources; rapid topical search; aggressive multiple re-tweetings with dissemination multiplication, a la “broadcasting”; and amazing linkage capabilities.

But all the downsides of blogging anarchy are magnified many times on Twitter.

Be super careful, not only in evaluating the Tweets that you receive, but especially the nature of what you Tweet.

Spur of the moment thinking that becomes identified as your Tweet could haunt you for a long time.

Retraction, deletion, or “de-Tweeting” may not be as easy as it seems.

George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more health policy news.

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  • http://twitter.com/puhfu Paul Fu, Jr.

    I think that singling out twitter from other forms of social media is unfortunate – the same advice applies to any social media posting, whether twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Google+, Facebook, or whatever. Physicians should be encouraged to embrace any form of technology that increases their ability to deliver quality patient care and that they are comfortable using and that they understand the inherent limitations that constrain that particular form of social interaction. That’s the real issue – not the technology itself.

  • http://www.HealthcareMarketingCOE.com/ Simon Sikorski MD

    I always say… learn to blog first, see the results your blogs provide, enable comments on your blogs (so that you can see the responses readers generate) and only then start experimenting with wider-reach social media channels. And when you join twitter/facebook listen to the conversations first to learn the etiquette of 140 characters… it’s a completely different beast. Some tips on social media for doctors: http://bit.ly/eVRKy4

  • http://twitter.com/sarasteinmd Sara Stein MD

    Sorry that you do not see the incredible value of being able to educate masses of people with minimal effort. My twitter colleagues and I are regular contributors to public health efforts by attempting to disseminate credible medical information, one sentence at a time. Furthermore, there is now software that can track symptom movement geographically such as the flu, by analyzing seemingly meaningless tweets for common symptom mention, use for crisis management such as we saw in Irene, and use for recruiting to studies, getting people with rare diseases together and in touch with experts, and many more benefits. Another incredible benefit is the number of experts and the availability for instant interaction.

    It’s the greatest public health tool we have.

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    This is a rather discouraging post in late 2011.  Twitter is a tool, like the telephone. We live in a digital age.  Anything and everything can be captured in a few seconds on a smart phone – photos, audio, tweets, etc.  With that in mind the  caveats above should apply to any time we open our mouths or listen to another human being. Why so much fear of communicating directly with people? Does everything that comes out of a physician’s mind need to be proof read, edited, approved for public consumption? I don’t buy it.And of course, people need to vet what they see and hear via media through a filter. That’s true on TV, radio and the pharma reps who come to tell us of wonder drugs.

    Also, if the stream you read isn’t to your liking, you have the power to change it at any time.
    The idea that the tool dictates the user experience is no longer a valid argument for sitting on the sidelines disengaged from the rest of the social world.