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Why is my physician on Twitter?

Twitter illustration
The use of social media is growing among doctors, including some at OHSU. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Health care professionals worldwide are increasingly leveraging the power of social media to speak directly with their respective communities, teach and share knowledge. They’ve taken to Twitter to share their experiences and opinions on a myriad of issues ranging from health care policy to lifesaving treatment. We’ve asked some of our tweeters to describe why and how they use the platform (see Q&As below).

For a more extensive list of OHSU tweeters, follow this list. 

 

Esther Choo, M.D. @choo_ek

Esther Choo, M.D.
Esther Choo, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

Why do you use Twitter? What do you like about it?

It gives me access to a broad community and a ton of information and ideas. I like the limited word count of Twitter. It forces people to be succinct and creative. It fits my emergency medicine mode of input.

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues?

That’s pretty much all I use Twitter for! I see it as a good place to enter the fray on topics that matter to me.

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

Dive in! Watch for a while, find people whose posts interest you, and start to share and engage.

Whom would you recommend people follow on twitter?

At OHSU, @VinayPrasadMD who never minces words. @honoraenglander who is a wonderful advocate for better substance use disorder dialogue and treatment and @aoglasser, who is a dedicated, engaged educator. Also, I love the @OHSUDoernbecher account. @davidbangsberg, the dean of the School of Public Health – he projects pride in his program and students on Twitter every day. Outside of OHSU, our Oregon senators. I think they use their accounts very effectively and have reach across the nation.

 

Honora Englander, M.D. @honoraenglander

Honora Englander, M.D.
Honora Englander, M.D., associate professor of hospital medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

Why do you use Twitter?

I use Twitter primarily as a way to connect with and learn from others in addiction medicine. The field is one where I got little to no training in medical school or residency, and where there is broad interest and implications across disciplines (for example, medicine and public health, legal and criminal justice systems, policymakers, the general public). Twitter is a space where I can learn from experts. It has informed my thinking about language that we use when talking about addiction, about safe consumption sites, and the criminalization of the disease of addiction. It is also a space where I can keep up with the latest published literature and share the work at OHSU.

What do you like about Twitter?

Twitter feels like an online community of practice. A few months ago, I gave a talk to the Oregon Circuit Court judges, and over Twitter reached out to @leobeletsky, a law professor and public health advocate, for guidance. I am pretty uncomfortable on other forms of social media (for example, Facebook), where I feel like I would be sharing personal things with people I don't know that well and where I'm not quite sure what is public and what is private. On Twitter, it's all out there. I like that anyone can connect and see tweets from anyone else. A while back a question came up with another IMPACT provider (Richard Gil) about U.S. health care policy and coverage for life-saving medications for addiction. I tweeted my question to the U.S. Surgeon General. I didn't hear back (not a surprise), but the access to leaders in the field is exciting.

Whom would you recommend people follow on twitter?

OHSU's Dr. Esther Choo @choo_ek is a master. She captures such important ideas and is an example of someone who has tremendous influence through her Twitter handle.

Within the field of addiction medicine, I recommend people follow @DrSarahWakeman, a physician colleague from Mass General, reporters @germanrlopez and @maiasz, and @leobeletsky, a law professor. Other people who share great things include OHSU's @jessgregg1, @lstrnad5, @kelseycpriest, @kjohnmcconnell, @DrAlishaMD and @easwanson2005. 

 

Bill Hersh, M.D. @williamhersh

Bill Hersh, M.D.
Bill Hersh, M.D., professor and chair of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology, OHSU School of Medicine.

Why do you use Twitter?

I use Twitter almost exclusively for professional purposes. (Unlike Facebook, which bridges my colleagues and our personal lives along with other friend and family.)

What do you like about Twitter?

Twitter is an excellent way to send out information about various professional activities of myself or my department. Whenever we post to our department blog, we tweet from the department account @OHSUInformatics, and I retweet from my own account. If I post to my blog, I tweet from my account. If someone in the department has a new paper, press release, or other happening (especially if it has a URL associated), we usually tweet it out from the department, and then I usually re-tweet it to my followers.

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter in an average week?

I don’t spend a massive amount of time on Twitter (the same may not be said for Facebook!), and I probably check it a few times a day (often when the badge icon notification appears on my phone).

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues?

I do not get too embroiled in controversial issues on Twitter (again, unlike Facebook, where I sometimes do).

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

I am not sure what advice to give to newbies, other than to start following people/things of interest and tweeting accordingly. I don’t follow many people on Twitter, mainly my department and primary professional association. I do see people’s tweets pop up on Facebook.

 

David Bangsberg, M.D. @DavidBangsberg

David Bangsberg, M.D.
David Bangsberg, M.D., dean, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

Why do you use Twitter?

We use Twitter to increase awareness of the School of Public Health as a new partnership that brings the best of OHSU biomedicine with PSU community engagement to promote health and well-being in Oregon. In addition, we use Twitter to communicate events, promote new courses, surveys and engage current and prospective students.

What do you like about Twitter?

We use Instagram and Twitter in order to communicate with our prospective student population. We use Twitter and Instagram to promote events like Public Health Portland style, and Facebook live to share our Public Health Portland style events. PHPS is a loosely structured discussion amongst academia, implementers, civic leaders and the affected population for important public health issues facing our community, such as homelessness, addiction, mental health. We have reached over 20,000 views. I also use Twitter to communicate that the staff, faculty and dean are committed to our students. 

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues?

Most of the important public health issues, from reducing harms to gun violence, racism,  homelessness,  suicide and overdoses are controversial. We don’t use Twitter for meaningful discussions on these topics, but rather use Twitter to steer people to the venues and opportunities to have meaningful discussions on these topics. 

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

Tweet every day to build your community. Add visual components to your tweets. Keep the posts diverse and rotate topics.

Who are a couple of people you’d recommend following on Twitter?

@Esther Choo.  Our county commissioners. Portland State University and partnering universities and institutions. Also @kelseycpriest and @honoraenglander.

Do you have a favorite tweet or Twitter comment you’d like to share?

Commencement day, PSU Dean of College Liberal Arts and Sciences, Karen Marongelle, asks me how I am getting to graduation. I reply, public health style: bike with helmet and high vis regalia!

 

Nate Selden, M.D., Ph.D. @NateSelden

Nate Selden, M.D., Ph.D.
Nate Selden, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of neurological surgery, OHSU School of Medicine.

Why do you use Twitter?

Twitter allows me to communicate with members of the OHSU community from Marquam Hill to the far reaches of Oregon and beyond. Our colleagues, patients, supporters, philanthropists, students and other friends of the program are kind to follow the activities of OHSU neurosurgery. I am glad to relay news of programmatic or scientific advances, and to celebrate the successes of Department of Neurological Surgery members. I also have the chance to relay some personal images and impressions of Oregon, the state where I grew up and where I still love to travel, ski and hike. Twitter does not have the reach of traditional media in terms of volume but is much more impactful in reaching the people most important to our mission.

What do you like about Twitter?

Facebook is a terrific medium for affinity groups and serves as a virtual club. LinkedIn connects professionals and helps us to advance mutual projects and networks. Twitter is most useful in building communities and sharing experiences important to those community members.

Do you have a favorite tweet or Twitter moment you’d like to share?

One of our greatest supporters and generous philanthropists opened a Twitter account so he could follow my posts about happenings in pediatric neurosurgery. Sometimes, inspired by a tweet, he would write me a paper letter of encouragement, sent to Portland by postal service. This was a wonderful intersection of different generations and technologies, but with perfect alignment of mission and values.

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter in an average week?

Twitter is a wonderfully efficient medium. I snap pictures on my phone and then send them out later with tweets, usually on a Tram ride. If our group publishes an impactful paper, I tweet a link to the abstract. I probably spend no more than six or eight minutes a week on Twitter.

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues? 

Twitter is not a place for nuanced discussions or difficult topics. It is the place to link people together, share news and connect to material on the web. Exploring difficult topics is an important exercise and transparency a key value, but that work should generally be done face to face.

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

Connect with an experienced Twitter user for tips and advice. Have fun. Stay positive. Add the personal to the professional and communicate with a vibrant community.

Who are a couple of people you’d recommend following on Twitter?

I enjoy following some sites with daily messages that are interesting or inspirational. It is nice to pull up a positive message during a busy day. My favorite is probably quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien. @tolkienproverb

 

Mike Powers, M.D. @PedsPulmMike

Mike Powers, M.D.
Mike Powers, M.D., professor of pediatrics (pulmonology), OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Why do you use Twitter? 

I started to use Twitter at a Cystic Fibrosis Quality Improvement Meeting two years ago, sharing concepts and team efforts with other attendees, but also with the greater CF Community (as more people followed me). Since that time, I’ve mainly used Twitter to share our local quality improvement efforts, continue to tweet from national QI meetings, and now follow QI-focused leaders around the world. I have learned many new concepts and training available about quality improvement in health care. I learned to appreciate a technique called Sketchnotes that relays concepts via pictorial format. I have signed up for a virtual course from IHI as I learned about it on Twitter. 

What do you like about Twitter?

I like Twitter because the people I follow are mostly sharing QI and health care concepts, in brief snippets. I do not use it for personal communications; I use Facebook for social postings. I also like that when you open up Twitter, you start where you left off, then swipe down to view new tweets from above – very different from how Facebook functions. 

Do you have a favorite tweet or Twitter moment you’d like to share?

One favorite moment is when the OHSU-Doernbecher CF Center efforts in co-production of care with our patients and families were signaled out by the Vice President for Clinical Affairs at a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation national meeting for family volunteers. I became aware of this presentation when CF families started to tweet out shout-outs for our team. Kind of cool to be in Portland, Oregon, and your CF Center is being recognized on a national stage and I am getting up-to-the-minute updates via Twitter.

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter in an average week? 
I spend about 10 minutes twice a day looking at my Twitter account. However, this may lead me to links of talks or manuscripts that I might read, or a Sketchnote to review. I then will often share these tweets, or copy the image and share with my CF team via e-mail.

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues? 

As noted above, I use it mainly to share and learn about QI efforts in health care.

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

Contribute to the conversation, tweet your thoughts and ideas, when sharing another tweet, or an image, etc. If you contribute people will want to follow you for your contributions to the topic. Follow other people, if they like when they look up your profile, they will follow you, you don’t need to be friends, per se.

Who are a couple of people you’d recommend following on Twitter?

@helenbevan: Helen Bevan is the Chief Transformation officer @HorizonsNHS in England. She seeks out ideas, learning and connections to help large scale change in health care, and she shares great Sketchnotes.

@IHI: Institute for Healthcare Improvement – actively tweets links and updates on QI ideas, efforts and courses.

@NIHDirector: Frances Collins, NIH Director, a lot of fun tweets about groundbreaking science, but also the human element to his job and position.

 

Vinay Prasad, M.D. @VinayPrasadMD

Vinay Prasad, M.D.
Vinay Prasad, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Why do you use Twitter?

I primarily use Twitter to discuss evidence-based medicine and health policy, which is my research interest. It’s been a great forum because every week, more and more people who are academics working in this field participate on Twitter, so there’s a really fertile dialogue between academics, journalists, practicing doctors, some patients, and other interested groups.

Professionally, it’s a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, I think you benefit from the fact that your work can reach a broader audience. An audience that may otherwise have missed it can be engaged and interested. On the other hand, I think when you work in topics that are inherently controversial, people can misinterpret or trivialize the work.

What do you like about Twitter?

I like that it’s short and succinct, forcing people to condense their thoughts. It reminds me of that quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Do you have a favorite tweet or Twitter moment you’d like to share?

I’ve become increasingly interested in these TWEETorials, where you pick a topic that you feel strongly about and have some content knowledge, and you actually teach a mini class to take people through the evidence as if you were teaching the lay public.

So many of the misunderstandings about some of these health policy topics are simply because many people think they know how things like cancer drug approval work when they haven’t actually looked at it closely. Just simply by clarifying the facts, the conclusions are often inexorable.

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter in an average week?

I think it’s a fair bit of time, unfortunately. Twitter seeps into the cracks between other things. It seeps into your time, so I think it would be several hours.

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues? 

In general, controversial issues are inherent to health policy. Any time you’re talking about such a large part (one-fifth, in this case) of the U.S. economy, you are going to find people who have made tremendous profits from the status quo and don’t want things to change, though I think many people believe there’s room for improvement.

When it comes to controversial issues outside of medicine, like politics or society and culture, I generally don’t comment (even though, like all citizens, I have an opinion). I feel like I don’t know any better about some of these topics than anyone else. I think the reason I’m tweeting about health policy is that it’s a topic where I do know more than other people. I try to keep my tweets about my expertise. I think that’s a matter of personal preference.

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

I guess I would say you should create the account on your phone, pick 50, 60 people to follow, and just keep an eye on things for a while. Over time, as you read interesting articles, you should start to tweet those out, and you’ll pick it up from there.

If you’re new to Twitter and want to increase your following, I don’t know if there is a magic formula. Try to tweet the way you talk. Tweet about things you’re passionate about because nobody wants to read your bland statements on things you’re not passionate about.

Who are a couple of people you’d recommend following on Twitter?

I hate these lists because they’re inherently incomplete! You can see everyone I follow: it’s about 500 people, and even that is incomplete because there are a lot of interesting people on Twitter.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

Social media doesn’t do everything. A lot of the criticism is that it’s not great for disseminating new research findings; well, that’s true, but no one is saying it is. It’s a place to engage in discussion, commentary critique, back-and-forth, praise for biomedical research in a way that’s more informal and fast and allows engagement. I think its role will only grow. If you’re an academic doing research, I think it’s almost obligatory to be on Twitter because it’s such a great place to post your research and engage with criticism or comments on it.

 

Bita Moghaddam, Ph.D. @bita137

Bita Moghaddam, Ph.D.
Bita Moghaddam, Ph.D., professor and chair of behavioral neuroscience, OHSU School of Medicine.

Why do you use Twitter? 

Primarily to promote the science that is going on in my lab, my field, and my department. Also, as one of the few women department chairs in my field, I think it is important to have a voice in the male-dominated science Twitter as a role model for young woman scientists

What do you like about Twitter? 

It is more inclusive and open to all.

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter in an average week?

Varies, but on average about 30 min/day – divided into two to five minutes as I am waiting for the elevator, etc.

Do you use Twitter to respond to controversial issues? Why or why not?

I do, but only on limited topics and when I know I have the standing and experience to effectively advance the causes that matter to me (such as increasing funding for science, or stopping sexual harassment in STEM fields). 

What advice would you give to someone in your field who is considering getting started on Twitter?

Follow many people on different accounts before tweeting. When you start to tweet:

  1. Have an agenda to advance.
  2. Never tweet if you are angry or emotional.
  3. If you have an impulsive personality, pause five minutes.

Who are a couple of people you’d recommend following on Twitter? 

  1. Accounts of institutes that fund your work
  2. Science writers
  3. Your peers
  4. Trainees in your and similar institutes

 

 

 

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