This story assesses the various reasons why emergency physicians are increasingly using social media in general, and Twitter in particular.
Published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine
Volume 54, Issue 2, Pages A23-A25 (August 2009)
By Eric Berger (Special Contributor to Annals News and Perspective)
Below is an excerpt from the story that features insights from Jason Bhan, MD - Co-Founder of Ozmosis.
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What Hath Jack Wrought?
Created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, 32, Twitter has seen phenomenal growth during the last year as other social networking sites such as MySpace have seen their growth ebb. Twitter's month-to-month growth has been 50 to 100%, and by late May the service had more than 30 million users.
When a user creates a new account he or she can immediately post new tweets, such as, “I'm on Twitter. Now what?” The answer, invariably, is to figure out how to use the service. For some people it's simply a means to keep up with friends and family, so they “follow” these people by subscribing to their updates. For other people it's a way to access celebrities who would otherwise be unapproachable. Basketball player Shaquille O'Neal (@THE_REAL_SHAQ, 1.1 million followers) is among the favorites, with such tweets as, “Should I challenge tiger woods to a homeboy style putting contest? I kno what you are thinking, I dnt putt like I shoot free throws, lol”
But during recent months there's also been a marked change in the use of the service, especially as companies and organizations such as ACEP have joined the fray. These organizations are using Twitter in a variety of ways to build their brands: reach out to customers, do consumer research, conduct e-commerce and create communities for users.
It is this more professional side of Twitter – the users who do not post the details of their breakfast but rather discuss issues and disseminate news -- that may be more appealing to emergency physicians. Physicians are joining Twitter and following organizations relevant to them, or other physicians to share information and communicate. This is the easiest way to begin experimenting with Twitter.
“If you look at Twitter your whole experience is designed by who you follow,” said Bryan Vartabedian, MD, an attending physician at Texas Children's Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “You're only as good as the people you follow, or the friends you hang out with.”
Within the continuum of social media, from blogs to wikis to YouTube, Twitter is classified as micro-blogging, because unlike longer blog entries, Twitter requires brevity. Just as physicians lagged behind some other professions in embracing the Internet – as recently as 2003 just one-quarter of physicians felt the Web was “essential” to their practice according to Manhattan Research3 – so, too, have they taken a slow-to-warm attitude toward social media, said Jason Bhan, MD, a family practice physician who launched Ozmosis, a physician-only social networking site, in 2008.
However, that's now changing for a variety of reasons, Dr. Bhan said. One survey earlier this year found that 60 percent of physicians were interested in or already participating in online physician communities.
Ozmosis and other physician-only social networking sites such as Sermo were created as online communities where doctors can access the collective wisdom of their peers through private and professional discussions, Dr. Bhan said. On Ozmosis each participating doctor is clearly identified, and because everyone knows everyone's name, this engenders trust, he said. Patients are not allowed in.
Dr. Bhan created the Web site after he left medical school. During residency and medical school, he recalled, there was a considerable focus on group learning, sharing information with colleagues, best practices and so forth with group meetings and grand rounds.
“We marched through residency with this wonderful focus on person-to-person learning,” Dr. Bhan said. “Then you graduate. You get a kick in the rear, get told you did great, and then you're on your own. The concept of Ozmosis came out of several years in private practice, where I felt isolated, and I missed the interaction. I found a core group of physicians who felt the same way, that it would be kind of cool to have a place where we can share information. I feel like it's a virtual version of the experiences we had of collaborating in medical school.”
Initially physicians may feel more comfortable with such sites because they're not open to the general public. But Dr. Bhan and other physicians who have dipped their toes into broader social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook contend that there's considerable value in going public, too.
Physicians' lives already are an open book, he said. Type any physician's name into Google and the first site likely to come up probably will be something akin to http://www.healthgrades.com, where patients can anonymously grade and comment on a doctor. Such sites will be closely followed by negative press.
Physicians need to realize that a significant percentage of patients have become accustomed to turning to the Internet for information about their physicians before they make their first phone call or send an e-mail, Dr. Bhan said. Doctors need to become comfortable interacting in these public, online areas as well, he said.
“This is just how today's patients are interacting with one another, and it's how many of them are coming to expect to interact with their doctor,” Dr. Vartabedian said. “If you have a practice, or are a physician-executive, it's almost to the point where you can't afford to not be involved in some way.”
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