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Hospital medicine @Twitter

July 2009

Published in the July 2009 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

IF YOU’VE EVER WONDERED WHETHER SOCIAL MEDIA like Facebook have any place in hospital medicine, you should check out the Twitter page of Vineet Arora, MD.

Dr. Arora, an academic hospitalist in Chicago, began “tweeting” earlier this year about medical education and issues of interest to medical students and residents. She now has more than 1,000 Twitter users “following” her, meaning they receive her regular Twitter updates. Her followers include not only students and residents, but news organizations and industry types interested in medical education.

Dr. Arora, assistant dean of medicine of the Pritzker School of Medicine in Chicago, typically tweets a few times a day, more if she has a lot to say. Her page is packed with information about medical education, from personal observations and links to journal articles and news reports to trends she hears about at conferences.

Dr. Arora says that because tweets are so short “they can’t exceed 140 characters “they don’t take very long to create. On a typical day, she’ll spend less than a half hour altogether writing and sending.

But Dr. Arora says that tweeting represents only part of the value of a service like Twitter. She points out that reading other peoples’ tweets helps her keep up to date on a wide body of information. “Instead of me searching for the information, the information is being pushed to me,” Dr. Arora says. “It’s an interesting way to follow news.”

And interacting with other Twitter users “commenting on their posts as well as reading and responding to their comments about hers “also makes the service valuable. “It’s a way to get connected to people you might never meet,” from students from around the country to reporters.

When communicating in such a public sphere, however, Dr. Arora says that there are some ground rules. For example, in the interest of privacy “and job preservation “she doesn’t tweet about individual patients she treats or the residents and students she works with.

Showing good judgment in what to comment on helps her meet another goal: showing young physicians how social media can be a positive force.

“I think of this as a way to experiment to find positive ways to use this technology,” Dr. Arora says, “and to set an example for students and residents.”