Twitter Graduate School: Teaching Health Sciences Students to Utilize Social Media to Address Issues in Healthcare

Patricia J. Devine, Network Outreach Coordinator
National Network of Libraries of Medicine/Pacific Northwest Region

Presentation Notes: Twitter Graduate School: Teaching Health Sciences Students to Utilize Social Media to Address Issues in Healthcare

Although many use Twitter for fun, to read celebrity gossip, and to keep up with friends, it is also a powerful current awareness tool. According to a May 2013 survey by the Pew Internet Project, 85% of adults in the United States use the internet. 72% of these internet users looked for health information online in the past year. And 73% of adults who are online use some type of social networking. Twitter is one of the places people look for health information.

In addition to knowing what’s out there in order to keep abreast of what patients are finding, healthcare providers can also use Twitter and other social media to share information themselves. In addition to keeping track of what’s going on in their field, it can serve as a current awareness tool and connect them to others with similar interests doing similar work. Thanks to link shortening services, you don’t really have to say everything in 140 characters or less. Twitter can be used to send links to articles, comment on others’ content and to connect.

In order to make Twitter work for you, finding the right people to put in your network is key. Searching by organization helps you find other like-minder users. Searching geographically can also help build your network, finding others in your region who serve the same kind of patient population, for example. This enhances your connections in your community, both virtual and physical.

Once you have built a network of trusted sources, which is evaluated based on the contents of their tweets, you can being to rely on the information they share. A trusted source will be an advantage to you in your quest to keep up in your field and stay abreast of changes.

To enhance these connections, you can add followers based on who is posting about topics you’re interested in. Once you have identified a good participant for your network, checking to see who they are following, or including in their network, is a good way to reach out and enlarge your network. It’s always a work in progress, adding or deleting based on which content is most relevant to you.

Using hashtags, or subjects, is a good way to identify more relevant content. You may search whatever interests you, then note in the search results if there is a hashtag people are using. Conference hashtags are also a good way to connect. Sometimes at conferences participants discover each other while

they’re attending the same session, based on their Twitter comments. The Symplur Health Care Hashtag Project is a way to find out what hashtags people are using. Symplur is a Project aimed at facilitating communication between healthcare providers and patients and enhancing and improving providers’ participation in social media in order to educate themselves and to steer the public towards better resources.

And finally, another way to participate more fully in what Twitter has to offer is to take part in Twitter chats, where all the participants use the same hashtag at a specified time. Health-related chats are listed on the Symplur website under the Health Care Hashtag Project, which also provides transcripts of the chats. Chats usually last an hour and are advertised on Twitter and in blogs, and participants can join the conversation but also just see what others are doing. Past chats can be searched as well.

Knowing what’s going on via Twitter and sharing information with colleagues and patients is a good way take advantage of what social media has to offer.