Last week my co-blogger Liza Sisler (@lizasisler) shared a great story about the power of Twitter in connecting people and ideas. As a straightforward one-to-many messaging service, Twitter offers a lot of different ways to disseminate knowledge. I think one of the most compelling use cases is in helping experts share information with non-experts—on Twitter, by following an expert in a given field, non-experts can learn about news, videos, and articles that a subject matter expert finds useful and informative. And unlike more traditional forms of online information, the 140 character limit of each Tweet helps ensure that each blast of information is concise and [usually] easy for users to decide whether to click through on a link or ignore it. As such, it’s possible to follow dozens (maybe even hundreds, if you’re really good) of different people and gain exposure to just as many ideas.
When it comes to healthcare, I think there’s an enormous opportunity for Twitter to serve as a way for physicians (experts) to guide patients (non-experts) toward credible online resources. As Dr. Sean Khozin states in this New York Times article:
Platforms like Twitter can be powerful if doctors are a lot more active in disseminating their expertise. Patients are being bombarded with information online, but I don’t think all that information necessarily empowers them. You also need expertise.
The potential usefulness of Twitter in spreading health-related information is particularly striking when considering a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The November 2010 study found that while 8% of all online Americans use Twitter (a number that’s sure to grow), 13% of African Americans that are online and 18% of Hispanic Americans that are online use Twitter. As such, the presence of health-related information on Twitter may have a disproportionately positive impact on these communities, communities which have historically been underserved by healthcare. Obviously, Twitter won’t erase disparities in healthcare delivery, but it does offer the potential to help empower patients with information from credible, authoritative sources.
The best part is that any Twitter user can follow and in some cases interact with any physician with a public Twitter account, regardless of insurance (or lack thereof), geography, or other constraints that historically limited a patient’s information to whatever brochures were in their local physician’s office. Some of the physicians I follow on Twitter include @Doc4Heart, @kevinmd, @davisliumd, and @seankhozin. There’s even this list of physicians on Twitter.
Who are some of the physicians you follow on Twitter?