Database finds docs actively use Twitter

A new database of physician tweets aims to gain insight into how doctors use Twitter.

San Francisco-based WCG, an independent strategic communications firm, created a database of nearly 1,400 U.S. doctors on Twitter and linked them to their National Provider Identifier, the 10-digit identification number issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

So far, the project has involved analyzing 400,000 tweets over a five-month period this year, according to MedCity News. At the project's website, MDigital Life, you can play with the data yourself.

Among the findings so far:

  • These docs tweet an average of twice a day.
  • More than half do so during their workday.
  • The most-followed doc is blogger Kevin Pho.
  • During the study period, 83 percent of specialties mentioned diabetes in their tweets.
  • 70 percent of specialties mentioned prostate cancer, as  part of this summer's controversy about the validity of the PSA test as a means of lowering morbidity.

The database is believed to be the most in-depth analysis of physician tweets so far, though a team lead by Katherine Chretien of the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., published an admonition for more professionalism when using social media in February 2011.

The database also tracks physician communication on Facebook, StumbleUpon, Reddit and email. The researchers have teamed up with the Mayo Clinic in their search for deeper insights from the data.

Healthcare tweets have grown 51 percent in 2012, Twitter's Melissa Barnes announced at the recent Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco. The microblogging service has been cautiously wooing healthcare marketers, but Barnes warned that some caveats apply.

As with all forms of social media, opinions differ on the appropriate use--and whether there is one--of the medium. Guidelines from from the Federation of State Medical Boards remind providers that patient privacy and personal boundaries remain paramount.

To learn more:
- read the MedCity News article
- find the MDigital Life site
- check out the KevinMD post

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