Author's Note: During this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival, I facilitated a workshop entitled Minorities in Health Tech: A How-to Workshop (#MinHIT ). I was delighted to learn that this conversation extended beyond the physical space with questions and comments from numerous Twitter users. In total, 87 Twitter users generated 291 tweets containing #MinHIT .
The Pew Research Center’s 2013 Health Online Report found that 30% of Blacks have used the Internet to diagnose a health condition and 59% have followed up with their medical professionals to discuss information they’ve obtained online. Social media, specifically Twitter, has become a new tool for physicians to engage their patients and their community.
To learn more, I asked some physicians of color, “What prompted your decision to use social media tools professionally?” Suzanne Hall, MD (@drsuzyyhall), an OB-GYN and founder of Gynogroupie.com in Michigan told me, “Through my efforts in social media for healthcare, I wanted to use modern technologies to expand those opportunities for sharing health-related information.”
Pediatrician Ivor Horn, MD MPH (@drivorhorn), a regular contributor at MyBrownBaby.com from Washington, DC, said “It was amazing how this…opportunity…really transformed the way that my patients saw me and took advice from me.”
Upon taking a closer look at a small group of physician power users on Twitter, several commonalities emerge.1. Tweet consistently
The physicians profiled share at least two tweets a day and they tweet seven days a week. Approximately 80% of their tweets can be classified as discussing health topics.
2. Share relevant tweets to increase influence
These physician power users share health information that their followers consider relevant. Many times over, their tweets are marked as favorites by followers or shared through retweeting. Twitter users can create public lists as a way to categorize and recognize other Twitter users for their expertise in various topic areas. Dr. Horn and Dr. Dombrowski have been added to 121, and 699 public lists respectively. Dr. Wen Dombrowski, MD MBA (@HealthcareWen) is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics and serves as the chief medical information officer for VNA Health Group.
3. Tweet from Medical Conferences
These physicians skillfully share expertise and build relationships. They identify specific Twitter users with whom they exchange ideas or share resources. Dr. Horn and Dr. Dombrowski frequently attend conferences that focus on digital applications in health and healthcare. At these conferences they live tweet their experiences as they participate in panel discussions. Recent conferences include the Technology Entertainment and Design in Medicine conference (#TEDMED), the mHealth Summit (#mHealth) and the Health Information and Management System Society annual conference (#HIMSS).
4. Twitter chats
Twitter chats occur when people agree to meet online at a specific time to discuss a common topic. They also occur spontaneously.
Tweet chats allow us ‘in small chunks’ to explore and expand people’s awareness of a topic.~ Dr. Wen Dombrowski
Tweet chats allow physicians and patients, teachers and students, experts and novices to meet without barriers. The Healthcare Social Media chat (#hcsm), the Health Communications Health Literacy and Social Science chat (#hchlitss), the Patient Chat (#patientchat), and the Health Information Technology and Social Medicine chat (#hitsm) are some of the tweet chats where Dr. Hall, Dr. Horn and Dr. Dombrowski respectively are most active.
Collectively, the physicians I interviewed identified the ability to make unlikely connections, bring seemingly disparate people or ideas together, and enhance capacity for sharing relevant health information as rewards they’ve gained through their activities on Twitter. Dr. Horn and Dr. Dombrowski in particular regularly speak to the ways in which access to technology, the Internet, and social media can improve health literacy and raise the profile of the dialogue on health equity issues.