Why All Doctors Should Be on Twitter

By Edward R. Mariano, MD, MAS    Jun 15, 2016

I am a physician, clinical researcher, and educator.

I am also on Twitter and tweet under the handle @EMARIANOMD.

Naturally you may ask:  “How does Twitter fit into a physician’s academic career?”  Some of the benefits that Twitter offers doctors have been described previously by Dr. Brian Secemsky and Dr. Marjorie Stiegler among others.  Here are a few reasons of my own:

  • Global Interaction:  Through Twitter I interact with people from around the world with similar interests.  Participating in Twitter chats like #healthxph or #hcldr can foster innovative ideas that may lead to research questions or educational collaborations.  For example, by tweeting on #kneereplacement, I was invited by orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Hatten, to revise the anesthesia information page on his site, My Knee Guide, an incredible online portal for people considering or undergoing knee replacement surgery.

                                   Observation is still a key part of the scientific method.

  • Search Optimization:  On multiple occasions, I have found research articles that my traditional PubMed searches have missed through the tweets posted by colleagues.  I have even been able to relocate certain articles faster on Twitter than PubMed when I know they have been tweeted.  Researchers can think of hashtags (starting with “#”) essentially like keywords in the academic world.  I periodically check #anesthesia, #meded, #pain, and #kneereplacement for new articles related to my research interests.
  • Lifelong Learning:  When I was in training, I used to periodically read JAMA and New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in addition to my own specialty’s journals.  Today, it’s difficult to even keep up with new articles just in my own subspecialty.  Now I follow JAMA and NEJM on Twitter.  More recently, we have seen a rise in Twitter journal clubs.  Just as it sounds, these are moderated discussions focused on an article of interest to the specialty open to the global Twitter community.  #AnesJC was started by Dr. Ankeet Udani (@ankeetudani) and colleagues at Duke (@Duke_Anesthesia) and covers the specialties of anesthesiology and pain medicine.
  • Research Dissemination:  As a clinical researcher, my hope is that my study results will ultimately affect the care of patients.  Sadly, the majority of traditionally published scientific articles will not be read by anyone besides the authors and reviewers.  Through Twitter, I can alert my followers when our research group publishes a new article. Highly tweeted articles are 11 times more likely to be cited by future publications than articles that are not tweeted.  In a study of Cochrane reviews, articles randomized to Twitter promotion received nearly three times as many page visits compared to controls.
  • Enriched Conference Experience:  A growing trend at medical conferences is “live-tweeting” the meeting.  One of my own issues when I attend or present at conferences is that I feel like I’m missing out on much of the meeting because so much is going on at the same time.  However, by living vicariously through my colleagues’ tweets at #ASRA_RA16, I could pick up pearls of wisdom from speakers in other sessions even while sitting in a different hall.  I can also “virtually” attend conferences anywhere in the world by checking conference hashtags from the comfort of my own home.

I often get asked:  “Does anyone really care if I tweet what I eat for breakfast?”  Probably not.  The truth is that you don’t have to tweet anything at all if you don’t want to.   Up to 44% of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet.   Of course, to be a physician actively engaged on Twitter requires respect for patient privacy and professionalism.  I recommend following Dr. John Mandrola’s 10 rules for doctors on social media.

I’ll admit that getting started is intimidating, but I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already.   I promise that you won’t regret it, and chances are that you’ll be very happy you did.  If you’re still too worried to take the leap, I suggest reading these 10 Twitter Tips for Beginners from Marie Ennis-O’Connor to boost your confidence.  At least sign up, reserve your handle, and observe.  Observation is still a key part of the scientific method.

Edward R. Mariano, MD, MAS, is the chief of the Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care Service and associate chief of staff of Inpatient Surgical Services at VA Palo Alto Health Care System. He is a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, CA. He is also a member of the ASRA Board of Directors.

Read more ASRA Blog entries.