Whenever I speak about social media, much of it has to do with Twitter. It has become part of my daily routine, much like checking email or going to news media sites. I will often “check-in” on Twitter and will respond to items of interest—whether or not tweets were sent directly to me. However, I am cognizant of how foreign a concept Twitter is among my peers in general. Indeed, whenever Twitter comes up, a common refrain emerges: “I could never do Twitter. I devote enough time to work; I don’t need to do anything else—especially something that doesn’t count at all.”
It intrigues me to think about how Twitter “doesn’t count.” In one of my talks, an academic internist told me because he could not list tweets as a publication (or any other category), then it “didn’t count.” Another person told me that because activities on Twitter were not considered at all as part of one’s Relative Value Units (RVUs for short), that it “didn’t count.” And then there was the busy clinical oncologist who viewed Twitter as a hollow opportunity to talk about one’s self—it had no societal value and hence, it just “didn’t count.”
To me, Twitter counts. Well, not so much the platform, but the people who I have engaged with. While I do not list tweets on my curriculum vitae, Twitter has become a rich resource for collaboration—beyond the traditional walls of my own institutions. I have collaborated on columns with people I have never met IRL (in real life) and met others in oncology who have gone on to become important colleagues. Indeed, in an era where the patient voice is becoming more important (finally), Twitter has provided a forum for me to engage on a much deeper level with people with cancer and those impacted by it. These experiences are not mine alone; I know of at least one other Twitter aficionado who used it to gain important insight on clinical trial design. As these examples attest, there can be real academic value to Twitter.
Twitter counts because it has informed my clinical practice. I know very well that time is a precious commodity for those of us who are seeing patients. We must account for our time in clinic and justify our time outside of patient care in order to justify our livelihoods. Even here, I have benefitted from my engagements on Twitter, including invitations to national conferences and patient-specific events, and opportunities to collaborate on grants with other organizations. I have also used Twitter to point patients towards information that I think is reliable and comment on news that I think is not exactly accurate. Indeed, Twitter has allowed me to be involved in the education of patients on a much larger scale, and while those patients are not necessarily ones I am seeing personally, I have been told I have made a difference in someone’s life. That, in and of itself, is pretty important.
The bottom line is that to me, Twitter counts. Not all of what is posted is of interest to me, and much of what I do on Twitter pertains to my professional, rather than personal, interests. It is how I have tailored my experience, and it has given me the platform to discuss things that interest me with others located in the U.S. and as far away as Spain, the United Kingdom, India, and the Philippines. These exchanges have informed my approach to medicine, opened me up to new ideas, and made me more aware of the role our patients can and must play in modern medical care.
So, to those who ask, “Will Twitter become a mandatory part of medicine some day?” I say no. No one will ever be able to “force” you to participate in Twitter or on any other social media platform. But, to think Twitter is a waste of time or has no value would be incorrect. Twitter counts.
For more information, I invite readers to take the new course on the Use of Social Media, available now on ASCO University, which explores social media in general and specifically, Twitter’s role in professional life. The course is the result of a collaboration between myself and fellow ASCO member, Dr. David Graham, who serves as the Chair of the Integrated Media and Technology Committee.