Twitter for doctors, physicians and other clinicians?

You’ve been keeping up with friends on Facebook for years. Email is pouring into multiple professional and personal accounts. Clinical tasks are piling up. Will you return that call to your mum? Invitations from colleagues to connect on LinkedIn, are gathering dust in your inbox… Maybe you actually need to meet with someone face to face?..

We are now expected to communicate using an overwhelming selection of different channels and networks. Many of us are already frustrated. So why would you want to use yet another social network?

Twitter is one of the more mature and well known social networks. But it is also one of the hardest to understand.

Why would a busy clinician use Twitter?

Twitter allows users to broadcast SHORT updates of up to 140 characters to the whole world. ALL other twitter users can choose to follow what you are saying and can find anything you have previously posted. You choose who to follow, but ANYONE can follow you.

It is this, brevity, openness and global reach which set twitter apart from the other social networks.

My path to Twitter…

I have a confession to make. I am a fairly new to using twitter regularly. As someone who identifies as being forward thinking and tech savvy, for a long time I had felt a little guilty for not being on board the twitter train. But like many people, I just couldn’t see how it would be useful to me.

However, this changed when I finally had something I wanted to tell the world about. Last year I started this blog with the intention of promoting discussion about innovation in General Practice. Naturally, I wanted to spread my message and let people know about the blog and twitter was one of a few obvious tools to do this. Once I began using Twitter, I began to follow and engage with other users, to enter into discussions and to hear what they had to say. I began to understand the platform and to finally see how it can be useful. 

How does Twitter work?

To use and appreciate twitter properly, you need to understand the basic mechanics. Twitter has a steeper learning curve than most social networks, but once mastered it is a useful tool.

  • Tweets – Posts with the option to attach pictures or videos. Every other twitter user will be able to follow and find what you have “tweeted”. The character limit of 140 characters keeps posts brief, focuses people to their point and makes it easy to follow what is being said.
  • Followers – When you choose to follow another user, their tweets will be visible in your timeline. When they follow you, they will see your tweets in theirs. The more followers you have, the people will see your tweets.
  • #Hashtag – This is perhaps Twitter’s most recognisable influence on modern culture. Topics, themes and events will have a hashtag. You can search for hashtags associated with topics or events that you are interested in. The most popular hashtags at anyone time are said to be “trending”. Add a hashtag to your post to allow others searching for a topic to find it. Learn what are the most popular hashtags in your field and use them.
  • @Mention – Include the name of another user in your tweet and they will be notified that they have been mentioned. This is a way of attracting a user’s attention and encouraging them to engage with your tweet.
  • Retweet – When you retweet a tweet from another user, it will be reposted in your own timeline and will be visible to your own followers, who can then also choose to retweet it too. This is an extremely important twitter mechanic. Tweets that are retweeted by many users spread across the network. These tweets are usually important, insightful, impactful, funny or otherwise noteworthy.
  • Like – If you like a tweet, the user is notified of you appreciation. But unlike a retweet, it will not be reposted in your timeline.
  • Lists – If you are following a large number of users, your timeline can become crowded. You can creating lists containing only certain users, such as just your medical news outlets for example. This allows you to look at tweets from only those users, providing another way to browse tweets in a more focused way.
  • Direct Message (DM) – If you really need to communicate with another user privately, then you can send a direct message and it will only be visible to the two of you.


5 reasons why a doctor would use Twitter

1- Keeping up to date – You may not have enough time to check all of the news, medical, or journal publications that you would like on a regular basis. Most publications, even academic ones, will have a twitter account which you can follow. Important news and posts from these sources will appear together in your timeline. Some users are excellent at identifying, filtering and retweeting great content in their field. Find these people and follow them.

2- Networking and discussion – Talk about issues with others, make connections and expand your network. Contacts made on Twitter can become useful professional colleagues.

3- Enhanced experience of live events – Many events will acquire or be given hashtag. Following these hashtags can help you see what other people are thinking about an event you are interested in or attending. Follow conference hashtags, those for live TV shows (in the UK #BBCQT can be fun), or even breaking news. Keeping a step ahead of the TV news during the attempted July 2016 coup in Turkey was an interested experience.

4- Expose yourself to different perspectives – An interesting observation about recent political events, such as the Brexit vote and 2016 US election, was the notion that many people were in an opinion “echo chamber”. They were hearing only social media of updates and comments made or Iiked by their friends. Thus they were exposed overwhelmingly to views similar to their own, potentially strengthening cognitive biases and more extreme opinion. Deliberately following twitter users with different views to yourself can help you to maintain a balanced information diet and a more informed and objective perspective.

5- Find new patients – Physicians operating in private healthcare markets such as the US are increasingly using their social media presence to promote themselves and their services. A good way to recruit new patients.


Top tips for clinicians starting out on Twitter

Have a reason to be on Twitter. This might simply be keeping up to date in your field or with a hobby. Perhaps you have a message you want to spread or want to build your network? For me, Twitter only began to make sense, once I was clear about why I was using it.

Complete your profile. Be sure to have a suitable username, a good profile picture of yourself and an appropriate description of you and your interests. Other users will look at your profile when deciding if to follow you.

Search for keywords, organisations or hashtags of interest and see who is tweeting about them. Begin to follow these users.

Look at your timeline and reply, comment and engage with tweets and users as well as posting your own information and insights. Build your own followers and network.

And of course, remember to click here and follow me,   😉


Most professional and regulatory bodies will have published their own social media guidelines. Be sure to read those applicable to yourself to ensure you don’t make any missteps or end up in trouble. In the UK the GMC and RCGP social media guideline are useful reading.

Twitter for doctors in <140 characters:


Next, download the twitter app and get started.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share with friends and colleagues, follow me on twitter and leave a comment below.

Remember to sign up for free updates when I post new material using the “Subscribe To” box in the top right of the site.

What do you think of this post? Comments welcome :-)