Twitter was on top of the world in 2009—it was the newest (and coolest) social media outlet on the block. Today, Twitter continues to garner significant interest among committed digital users, and the company’s CEO ensures that features and services evolve every year. Currently, Twitter is used by more than 230 million people and is a favorite platform for many business leaders throughout the world. In fact, there are more than 420,000 C-Level executives on Twitter, and more than 83 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have an active Twitter presence. Importantly, 76 percent of users access Twitter via a mobile device such as a smartphone, watch or tablet.
According to a survey by Pew, while the average age of Twitter users worldwide is 38 years old, the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-65-year-old range. For many physicians, this demographic represents a large proportion of our practices—and more patients are engaging online every day. Patients who engage online are often motivated to make behavioral and lifestyle changes that may positively impact health status. In fact, when it comes to healthcare, 75 percent of patients visit the web for information either before or after a visit with their physician. The digital space is where patients are now, and where physicians and healthcare providers need to be.
One way to engage patients in the digital space is via Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is an organized discussion online that allows people with similar interests to share ideas and engage with others in real time—just as if sitting in a room together debating a topic. These chats can be centered around a particular health topic—treatments, providers or healthcare systems—or they can be utilized as a support group for patients with similar chronic diseases.
During the course of a Twitter chat, a group of individuals discuss a topic. The topic is identified by a particular hashtag (#), which is a common way to search for a digital discussions. During the course of the discussion, those who are participants are observed by others on Twitter. When the observers see an interesting tweet, they may engage and retweet comments to others—thus expanding the reach of the discussion and multiplying its reach 100 fold or more. For example, during the American College of Cardiology meetings this year in Chicago, there were more than 34 million impressions from only 3,600 tweets.
How can we utilize Twitter in a busy medical practice?
It is clear that Twitter has a powerful reach. As healthcare providers we must begin to use digital platforms to reach our patients and impact their health. There are five important ways that Twitter can be applied to clinical practice:
- To Treat—Twitter is a great way to expand the reach of your annual office visit. As a clinician, it can be frustrating to only reach your patient in a short annual or quarterly face-to-face office visit. Social media platforms such as Twitter allow physicians to offer support throughout the year. While it is not appropriate to provide patients specific advice on social media, it is perfectly acceptable to provide general information and support.
- To Teach—Social media, and particularly Twitter can offer an easily accessible platform from which healthcare providers can provide important disease management information to patients as a group. Through digital engagement, patients will be better equipped to manage their own disease and outcomes will improve.
- To Consult—Twitter is a fantastic way to share information and garner clinical opinions from colleagues from all around the world. It is essential that patient privacy is always respected and, during the course of case discussions, that no one can identify a particular patient.
- To Market—Twitter can be a wonderfully effective way for healthcare providers to share their abilities and availability with the world. Healthcare systems practices and businesses that are active on Twitter are able to drive traffic to their own websites and “create a buzz” around particular healthcare offerings. This can be a highly effective way to attract customers and gain market share in a very competitive healthcare market.
- To Become a Key Opinion Leader (KOL)—Developing a social presence and a broad digital footprint can lead to recognition among colleagues worldwide. Healthcare providers who are active and outspoken on Twitter often get noticed and over time develop significant academic credibility. This recognition can result in becoming a KOL, and KOL status can bring more traffic to your site and to your practice, healthcare system or business.
Wade into the social space today
Engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms is a very effective way to reach out to potential customers and patients. More and more healthcare providers are beginning to engage online—and the time to get involved is now. Begin by “listening,” then slowly wade into the deep end of integrated social engagement today!
How are you using social media to connect with patients? Please share your ideas in the comments!