Is Twitter a "Must" for Doctors, or Just the Latest Fad?

Andrew E. Craig, MSN, FNP-C

Disclosures

December 22, 2009

In This Article

Watch Out for Twitter Pitfalls

If you have decided to use Twitter, there are some key guidelines that can make it more effective for you, and there are also land mines to avoid.

  • You can make your Twitter profile public or private. If it is public, anyone can see your profile page and read your tweets, whether they follow you or not. If your profile is private, only your followers see your tweets, and only those you approve can follow you.

  • Be careful what you write! Tweets posted while your profile is public remain public forever, even if you later change your profile to private. Do not post anything that might come back to haunt you if it were read by a patient, a patient's attorney, a prospective employer, or a licensing board.

  • Consider whether you will use Twitter personally or if your practice will have an account. Will you have a staff member assigned to tweet practice information, or will you do it yourself? Remember, Twitter's advantage is the ability to get a message from you to all your followers quickly. If it is a time-sensitive message, eg, "the office won't open until 10 AM today due to bad weather," it is better if that gets tweeted sooner than later.

  • Do not get drawn into 2-way tweets back and forth with your patients. It is time consuming, it is not private, and it is not reimbursable! To prevent this, allow your patients to follow you, but do not follow them in kind; if you do, it enables direct messaging between you and that user. Stick with using Twitter to communicate general information to your patient group as a whole.

  • Consider posting your Twitter policy on your Website to avoid any misunderstandings with your patients regarding what you will (and will not) be doing via Twitter. You can also use Twitter to advertise new services and share lengthy information by posting a tweet that points followers to your Website for the details, eg, "@AcmeFamMed: Holiday hours in effect, details at http://acmefammed.com/hours." (Note: these are not real names; they are examples for this article.)

  • If you need to post a link to a story that is too big to fit the 140-character limit, use a uniform resource locator (URL)-shortening Website like http://bit.ly or www.notlong.com. These free sites allow you to paste a long link into a box; they generate a short link in return. When users click on the short link, they are redirected to the original site.

  • Besides using Twitter on the Web, there are applications available that allow you to use Twitter on your smartphone. Some of these applications are free, whereas others have a nominal cost.

  • Pay attention to who's following you. Within a few days of getting my Twitter account, I noticed a few "followers" that were obviously spam and/or adult oriented. I promptly blocked and removed those followers and reported them to Twitter for spam; (there are links on your profile page to do this, so it is easy. Now I check my profile every week or so to make sure I am not acquiring spam.

Twitter can prove to be a useful and enjoyable tool once you get used to it, and if you follow the appropriate guidelines. Today's physician should consider giving it a try.

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