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12 August 2015
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Why should healthcare workers consider using Twitter?

Ahead of the workshop ‘Social media – learning, influencing and avoiding trouble’ at the FMLM Scottish medical leadership conference on 21 September, Prof Chris Oliver and Dr Andrew Murray share their experience about using Twitter for healthcare promotion and for sharing their passion for sporting activities.

Some say Twitter is a waste of time. It is, however, the world’s largest instant global conversation platform, making it a very effective way for healthcare workers to interact, communicate and educate. It’s definitely not a tool for daily clinical communication.

Twitter contains information that you will undoubtedly find valuable. Messages from users you choose to follow will show up on your desktop homepage or smartphone for you to read. It’s like being delivered a newspaper whose headlines you’ll always find interesting – you can discover news as they happen, learn more about topics that are important to you and get the inside scoop in real time. It’s much faster than journals or print media.

While we do use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, Twitter offers much more from a professional networking perspective, giving you the chance to hear and share ideas. Although it can take up your time, if used effectively, it can prove to be a very up to date and appropriate way to organise your life.

What was our Twitter goal?

In the beginning, we just wanted to connect with as many runners and cyclists as we could. We thought we could be a rigorous and trustworthy information source and our initial goal was to share information and things we are passionate about. We also wanted to be a source of encouragement and support to people wanting to be more physically active through running and cycling.

Additionally, we saw Twitter as an opportunity to share great stories of what people have achieved and examples of good practice – we know that 95% of people are happy with the NHS, but what we see in the papers does not reflect this, so we use the platform to share some of the amazing things people and services are doing in healthcare.

Why we (@CyclingSurgeon, @docandrewmurray) use Twitter

We both use Twitter for health promotion and for sharing our passion for sporting activities. Twitter has been useful for networking quickly with many organisations and this has led to media (print, internet and television) interaction. Social media is also a great tool to use to keep our friends and followers up-dated about our running and cycling expeditions – there have even been tweets sent by @kentoncool from the top of Mount Everest.

Via Twitter, we have made many new contacts with health organisations and professionals in the UK and much further afield. We have met other professionals we would not have otherwise met and have built bridges across many new and old organisations. We have certainly learnt a lot about running and cycling by gathering information from Twitter and by tweeting ourselves; it's fast and a great way to feel much more connected with what's happening.

On many occasions, we have been able to provoke and take part in interesting debates – @CyclingSurgeon on cycle helmet wearing, road justice and 20 mph rural speed limits – while also engaging with parents, schools, famous public figures and government ministers amongst others to help inform policies we are involved with creating and to share ideas with them.  

Twitter has also helped us discover many erudite blog writers, making us feel more connected with current issues and allowing us to evaluate evidence more completely. It is a great platform for following newspaper and academic articles and asking authors about themselves and their writings.

Avoiding pitfalls

Using social media also creates risks, particularly where social and professional boundaries become unclear. As healthcare workers we’ve learnt that you have to be careful when considering personal versus professional use of Twitter. We would avoid giving any individual medical advice on the platform.

The General Medical Council has sensible social media guidelines which we recommend reading. You must follow the guidance in Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient. If a patient contacts you about their care or other professional matters through your private profile, you should indicate that you cannot mix social and professional relationships and, where appropriate, direct them to your professional profile.

Many doctors use professional social media sites that are not accessible to the public. Such sites can be useful places to find advice about current practice in specific circumstances. However, you must still be careful not to share identifiable information about patients. Although individual pieces of information may not breach confidentiality on their own, the sum of published information online could be enough to identify a patient or someone close to them. You must not use publicly accessible social media to discuss individual patients or their care with those patients or anyone else.

Good medical practice says that doctors must treat colleagues fairly and with respect. This covers all situations and all forms of interaction and communication. Bullying or unfair comments about individuals online do not do anyone any favours.

If you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by authors who represent themselves as doctors is likely to be taken on trust and may reasonably be taken to represent the views of the profession more widely. You should also be aware that content uploaded anonymously can, in many cases, be traced back to its point of origin. Tweets cannot be deleted as they are always retained on a server.

Overall many health professionals find Twitter is very worthwhile. We feel it does help engaging people in public health and policy discussions, establishing national and international professional networks and facilitating patients’ access to information about health and services. Just be careful that it doesn't become an obsession and takes over too much of the time that you could be out running or cycling!

Happy tweeting and see you at the FMLM Scottish medical leadership conference for more discussions about using social media as a healthcare professional!

Prof Chris Oliver, Professor Physical Activity for Health, Edinburgh University and Consultant Trauma Orthopaedic Surgeon, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Endurance Cyclist, @cyclingsurgeon

Dr Andrew Murray, Leadership and Management Fellow, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Endurance Runner, @docandrewmurray

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8 years 10 months ago

Twitter has transformed my life


Good to read an excellent article by Chris and Andrew. It would have been really good if they could have given the names of some excellent medical leaders to follow in the Twitter. Please note I am not talking about me and there are many. Twitter has transformed my life. I have become twitter addict. Having done lot of work on patient safety, medical errors, why doctors make mistakes, clinical governance, organisational culture and leadership; I was hardly known in the country but now through the twitter most people know me and I tweet everything on these subjects. I get nearly 10 to 15 invitations to come an speak on all these topics and more so on value based leadership.

I joined Wrightington Wigan and Leigh FT as the MD in 2010 and by defining our values, culture and appointing values based leaders and robust governance and patient and staff engagement we have transformed the Trust and today 450 less patients die each year, all 22 quality measurements have improved, the Trust has 280 patient safety champions and we received 28 awards! In 2014 we were awarded the best provider Trust of the year and this year we were voted as the second best Trust in the country! in 2010 we were bottom 20% place to work in the country! 

Now I tweet and share my experience with the world and many Trusts have contacted us. I want to give only one advice to all doctors, be good doctor, be a good leader, do good to others and share it with the world. Don't expect everyone to like you but always be honest and sincere. NHS is a great Institution and it needs good leaders so that patients get the best care all staff are happy to work and proud to work. Simon Stevens has already visited the Trust and now we are working with many Trusts on patient safety, staff engagement, governance and many other topics.

If anyone is interested please do not hesitate to contact me. Each year many trainees get an opportunity to learn about management and leadership. Today we have nearly 50 consultants who are keen to be leaders in our organisation. Twitter is great to spread your message when no one else is listening.

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