3 reasons healthcare pros should join Twitter

Truth be told, I was fairly late to the social media party.

I understood the professional networking benefits of LinkedIn, but despite my friends extolling the virtues of connecting on Facebook, I didn't get the appeal of people sharing the everyday minutiae of their lives. I only joined the site when my teenage daughter asked to create a profile--I wanted to keep an eye on what she shared with her friends.

I was shocked when, what seemed like moments after I created an account, relatives, coworkers and friends immediately sent me "friend" requests. Instantly I reconnected with people from my past--sharing memories, photographs and news about our lives.

I was hooked.

Healthcare professionals were also initially slow to the social media party, but they've apparently made up for it in a big way. This week FierceHealthcare reported that when Twitter launched in 2006, only 23 healthcare professionals set up accounts. Today, approximately 75,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and consultants post 152,000 tweets a day about healthcare policy, research, individual medicines and disease treatments, according to research conducted by Creation Healthcare, a London-based research and training consultancy.

The numbers are impressive, but I wondered of all the social medium platforms available, what is it about Twitter that's so appealing to healthcare professionals? After all, with its 140-character limit, how much information can they actually share with one another?

A lot, Daniel Ghinn, CEO of Creation Healthcare, told me yesterday in an exclusive interview.

Within those short messages, medical professionals can share journal articles, as well as links to studies, blogs and share their own points of view. They can also have longer conversations using short tweets. Emergency room physicians, for example, can ask for thoughts about a particular case and instantly receive advice from doctors all over the world in real-time.

"What we've heard from healthcare professionals is they like the openness of Twitter and that they can collaborate so easily with different professionals," Ghinn said. "And what we find is that doctors are sharing knowledge with nurses or pharmacists in open channels in a way that doesn't happen inside the hospital corridors."

Ghinn expects the number of medical professionals and healthcare executives joining Twitter will only continue to grow.

"We are still at the start of the social media phenomenon for healthcare professionals," he said. "We now have people, who were born into the world of social media, becoming medical students and graduating as nurses and doctors. For them, using it is a completely natural thing to do. Younger doctors are more likely to use a public, open social media than more established doctors, so there is an indication that there is going to be significant, ongoing growth as younger doctors join the scene."

For those who have yet to venture into the world of Twitter, Ghinn provides three reasons to jump on the bandwagon:

1.  The opportunity to learn from colleagues. The platform allows you to collaborate with professionals all over the world. "You don't even have to be brave enough to post comments at first. You just can read and listen," he said.

2. The opportunity to share your knowledge. Healthcare professionals find it richly rewarding to share their expertise with others, according to Ghinn.

3. The opportunity to improve public health. The platform allows medical professionals to share their knowledge of topics such as vaccinations and correct misinformation that often exists on the Internet.

And for those still reluctant to become active users, Ghinn suggests taking small steps--start following some interesting healthcare blogs or popular Twitter users.

"I think once they've seen a couple of good examples and follow other professionals, they'll get a good sense of what people are talking about," he said.

And soon enough, you'll be hooked, too. -- Ilene (Follow on Twitter @FierceHealth)