Twitter is a valuable health resource for patients

If you’re like many of us, the minute you or someone you care about is diagnosed with something, you go online to do research. You may even reach out to your Facebook friends. You’re far less likely to think, “Hey! Now that I have cancer/diabetes/MS, I better get a Twitter account!” If you can’t understand what people get out of Twitter, this post is for you.

Reason #1. Real-time conversations with people who’ve been there. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with cancer, diabetes or lupus; you’ll find others who have been through it. Don’t be surprised if they happen to be in Canada, Dubai, Ireland or Yangon. (These are all examples from my experience, by the way.) It’s so comforting to know you’re not alone, and so awe-inspiring to realize that experience connects us no matter where we are on this blue marble.

Reason #2. There are some incredible doctors and nurses sharing their time and talents on Twitter. They’re answering questions and sharing insights, including links to their own blog posts and interesting healthcare articles from other sources.

Patients or civilians or whatever you call the rest of us do that too, but I want you to know the pros are out there and they want to help. I will never forget how nervous I was when I first got on Twitter. The first person who started following me aside from people I knew offline, and who made me feel welcome in this electronic cocktail party, was a doctor. I will always be grateful to him.

While no one will (or should) give you specific medical advice, any question you have about what something means or how it works is likely to find an answer. I blundered into a colon cancer discussion yesterday over my lunch hour and decided to jump in, since colon cancer took my mom out. I had a question about something I’d heard about certain people needing more colonoscopy prep (lucky them!), and a doctor answered it within seconds.

Reason #3. Tweetchats, which bring all these peers and pros together in one place. If you aren’t familiar with them, tweetchats are scheduled discussions on a variety of topics, such as the colon cancer one I found. People use hashtags(#) to identify the topic or group. I often take part in the #bcsm (breast cancer social media) tweetchat held on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern time, moderated by Jody Schoger (@jodyms) and Alicia Stales (@stales) with support from Deanna Attai (@DrAttai), a breast surgeon. The group has tackled parenting while under treatment, how to tell people at work, and how to cope with the fear of recurrence.

Three other excellent tweetchats are #hcsm (healthcare communications in social media), moderated by Dana Lewis (@danamlewis), and #MDchat and #RNchat, both moderated by Phil Baumann (@PhilBaumann). Phil is a registered nurse and business consultant. He also blogs at Health Is Social (@HealthisSocial). There are too many other health-related tweetchats to mention here. Symplur.com has a comprehensive healthcare tweetchat calendar.

Reason #4. Breaking health news. My husband has commented on how often we see something in the Wall Street Journal before we see it on broadcast news or our local paper. Now I often see things on Twitter before I see them in the WSJ or any news outlet. I can’t tell you how many healthcare items I’ve seen on Twitter first in the past year or so.

Those reasons are immediately top of mind for me. If you have more reasons Twitter can be a good health resource, please share them. And if you’ve been thinking of getting on Twitter, just do it. Don’t let it intimidate you. It’s not just for celebrities and you can make some real connections.  Happy tweeting!

Jackie Fox is the author of From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned And You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer, and blogs at Dispatch From Second Base.

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