Why Do Twitter? Because Twitter Counts

Why Do Twitter? Because Twitter Counts

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Oct 09, 2014

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.


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Anne Katz, PhD, RN, FAAN

Oct, 09 2014 11:34 AM

I too am a believer in part because of your many tweets (not a criticism!). One can choose to just watch what comes up and do nothing or respond or retweet etc etc. One of my favorite conversations was with a physician who in all seriousness declared: "I do not like The Twitter". Yeah, I guess not! I didn't even try to convince him otherwise - THE Twitter indeed!

Merry Jennifer Markham, MD, FASCO, FACP

Oct, 09 2014 3:30 PM

Oh, I agree with everything you said here, Don. The people I've connected with on Twitter - you included - have made the experience so worthwhile. As an early adopter of Twitter (2008 for personal reasons; 2011 for professional), I didn't know what I was getting myself into, whether I'd have time, whether it would be worth it. Looking back, the answer is YES. Engaging (and that's the key - being engaged and participating) in social media has opened up new opportunities for me, new collaborations, and most importantly, new friendships. it's completely worth it. 

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP

Oct, 09 2014 4:12 PM

Dear Anne and MJ,
Thank you for your comments; especially since they come from twiends who are also very dear colleagues in real life. I hope more of our colleagues explore Twitter; there are no "rules" per se- use it as you wish to, respond what you feel like responding to. But, my request- do not simply ignore it. DSD

John Bennett Md

Oct, 10 2014 9:00 AM

Thanks Don
Twitter is, indeed, a valuable medical resource for me.  And a place to meet other medical minds, and communciate, sometimes business and sometimes pleasure.

It is an easy way to share good medical articles.  For example, I posted an article about improvements in communications, in the Brain Locked-In syndrome, and did not have to call, write, or even write an email to a Neurologist friend that work, of course, with strokes, and brain enhancement exercises.  So this article is perfect for him, and I just made him aware of it, by putting the old "@Neurolgoits" address to bring it to his attention.

Easy.  Digitalization allows us to use great tools like this to communicate.

Now I have to work on you, Don, to use another improvement in education, Google Hangouts. That is another optional tool, which puts med ed on steroids.  Legally. 

Robert S. Miller, FASCO

Oct, 10 2014 4:59 PM

When I first actively began exploring social media in about 2008 (which, as I’ve shared before, was initially because of ASCO Committee activity and not so much out of personal interest), I quickly realized that one enormous bonus was how it facilitated the ability to engage with people with similar interests all over the globe. As has been your experience Don, I have had numerous professional opportunities come to me as a result of the engagement I have had with others over Twitter, without ever having met them in real life. And even if a particular Twitter relationship hasn’t resulted in an invitation to give a talk, it still has often meant I have a new colleague who is part of my “personal learning network” and with whom I can exchange small snippets of knowledge and/or experience, be it a journal article, news story, someone else’s blog post, or even a personal observation about something (more profound than what I had for lunch). My day is enriched by such relationships, and many have immeasurably enhanced my personal and professional growth.
One of the best articles that I’ve read that highlights the power of social media in this space is An Introduction To Social Media For Scientists by Holly Bik and Miriam Goldstein. While it doesn’t focus predominantly on Twitter, I would ask any researcher or scientist still skeptical about the value proposition, can you afford NOT to be engaged with others on Twitter? Just as consumer access to online information about health has forever changed the doctor-patient relationship, I think that online access to colleagues, existing and future, may change our professional networking and relationships in ways that seemed completely implausible a few years ago (and may still seem so to many of our peers). I understand that many are concerned about the perceived time commitment for Twitter, but if you continue to be on the sidelines, you may find yourself spending more time catching up with those already in the stream.

Deanna J. Attai, MD

Oct, 12 2014 7:38 PM

Twitter definitely counts! As mentioned above, it's not for everyone, but I can't imagine practicing without it. We all enjoy interactions with colleagues in our communities, but twitter gives you the opportunity to expand that network across multiple specialties and multiple countries. Perhaps the biggest benefit for me: interacting with patient communities has increased my sensitivity and has made me a better physician. 

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP

Oct, 16 2014 5:38 PM

Wonderful comments from John, Bob, and Deanna. I hope our community at large will read all of your (our) thoughts on how Twitter can be useful, in terms of fighting burnout, academic productivity, and clinical sensitivity. Thanks for your combined voices! DSD

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