Wessex ICS Blog

Twitter for beginners and how you can use it for Continued Professional Development

Author: Steve Mathieu
Follow @stevemathieu75

If you want to know how we practiced medicine 5 years ago, read a textbook.
If you want to know how we practiced medicine 2 years ago, read a journal.
If you want to know how we practice medicine now, go to a conference.
If you want to know how we will practice medicine in the future, listen in the hallways and use FOAM. -- Joe Lex --

The growth of social media for medical CPD has been astronomical over recent years. More and more health care professionals are taking to twitter for sharing useful papers and educational resources. The emphasis on encouraging Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) is embedded throughout these interactions.

I have no intention of reinventing the wheel with this one, but have tried to combine the wealth of information already out there with a few of my own experiences. Hopefully this will provide some help to any newcomers to twitter and perhaps persuade those still resisting to come on board.

resistance is futile

What is twitter?

  • On line social networking /microblogging platform for enabling users to send and read text based messages (tweets). Limited to 140 characters
  • You only read who you follow
  • Anyone can follow you although you can block them if you wish
Allows global conversation with like minded individuals interested on the latest medical practice and literature or if you prefer, it's acceptable to just watch
Allows you to follow conferences even if you are not there
Allows social networking and friendships to develop and then be consolidated at conferences, with colleagues across the globe. This is eloquently described by Iain Beardsell here

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(slide from 'your medical education...2.0' from David Marcus @EMIMDoc and Jeremy Faust @JeremyFaust)

What does it mean to follow someone on twitter?
This means that you've chosen to subscribe to their twitter updates. You can always unfollow them at any time. Anyone is similarly allowed to follow you. If you decide that you do not wish for them to do this, you can always 'block' them. You can easily see who is following you. There is more information about all of this at twitter FAQ's

Who should I follow?
Have a look at someone you know that is already using twitter for medical education purposes and look at their list of people they are following. You will quickly get to know who are the people that you find most useful and you also start to build up your own following. The links below have recommended people to follow as well.

What's @ and # all about?
e.g @WessexICS (no spaces) directs your message to that person. You can add other people if you want to send to multiple but beware the character limit. If @ at the start of the sentence then the tweet will go to that person AND anyone who is following both you and them. If @ anywhere else it will go to that person and ALL of your followers.

So if you send the following tweet ‘@WessexICS this blog is rubbish’ - I will receive this message and anyone that is following both of us. If you send ’This blog is rubbish @WessexICS’ or ‘This blog by @WessexICS is rubbish’ - I will receive this message and also ALL of your followers - thanks!
More explanation on this if required

Direct Message (DM) This is a private message and is not visible to anyone else.

# (hashtag) is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. Anyone can make a hashtag at any time, simply by typing a phrase of the form '#topic' in a tweet (again no spaces). This creates a page specific to that hashtag and whenever someone tweets and includes this hashtag, it will be visible on this page as well as to anyone who follows them. You can get to the page by clicking on the hashtag. You can also look for hashtags in the search bar as shown below.

A great deal of hashtags have already been created and medical conferences will advertise the ones they are using e.g #ICSSOA13 (State of the Art Meeting, ICS 2013) and #SMACCGOLD (Social Media and Critical Care Conference 2013). Bets are on for what the hashtag will be for the next SMACC conference in Chicago. Current odds on favourite at 2-1 is #smaccUS ! Not only does this allow you to engage in discussion at conferences but does not exclude you from learning and participating even if you are the other side of the world. The days of writing notes at conferences (if you did in the first place) have also gone if the conference is well covered with avid twitter users.

Jeremy Jaramillo has done a really nice summary of the medical hashtags and can be accessed here. The essential one for critical care is #FOAMcc and anything that starts with #SMACC

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Other symbols or short-hand used on twitter include
There is an entire dictionary here but the most important bit is to recognise the limitation of 140 characters and to write a message that fits but still makes sense. Shorthand can be useful to credit other. If you view a useful tweet from someone else, do share it by clicking 'retweet'.

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If you choose to use the link or content of another persons tweet in your own new message, its courteous to acknowledge the original author. Lots of options here but main ones to use at the start of your sentence are:

MT - Modified tweet (you don't necessarily need the 'via' as I have done below. It would be clear anyway that the tweet content originates from @IrfanDhalla)
RT - Retweet
HT - Hat tipping or heard through

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What's twitter not so good for?
Apart from your social life, it is not a great platform for having extensive discussion and debate. This often is difficult to fit in 140 characters and results in huge number of tweets about one topic and the context of these key messages can often be lost in translation. An example of how this happens and the solution was summarised by Chris Nickson (@precordialthump) here. Google plus is a really good place for moving these in depth discussions. This is of course presuming you don't share an office with someone or they are your spouse. In this case, probably recommended to have a face to face conversation.

A word of caution with using twitter
You should comply with the GMC's 'Good Medical Practice' and worth having a look at the brief GMC regulations here

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Extract from GMC regulations on the use of Social Media 2013

Worth also remembering the issue around your own anonymity. The GMC dictates this.....

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You will see that the profile for
@WessexICS clearly also includes details of my personal twitter account which in turn provides professional information about myself

Personal experience
I have found twitter a fantastic vehicle for learning, sharing and discussing the latest literature, resources and details at conferences. It still amazes me that we were able to have discussions about the TTM trial on Sunday, November 17th 2013 as it was being discussed in Dallas (have we decided yet 33 or 36?!). Being able to follow SMACCGOLD on the other side of the world (timing not great for me) was an absolute privilege. Access to information, working collaboratively and encouraging each other in a really friendly and supportive way must be credited to twitter and all the incredible FOAMites involved. Join now!

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Useful resources

  • Ten Tips for FOAM beginners’ - Chris Nickson. Includes 3 excellent screencasts by Tessa Davis covering the basics of twitter. Link here
  • 'Tips on engaging twitter newcomers' - Jeremy Faust. Lots of links available here
  • 'Medical Education & Social Media Overview'. This is an essential slide set by David Marcus which gives a nice in-depth look at taking the next step beyond twitter. This includes podcasts/vodcasts, GMEP.org, aggregators and apps . Link available here
  • ‘Social Media and Critical Care - what’s the deal?’ - Chris Poynter. Link available here
  • ‘#Dontgetleftbehind: FOAMed and Social Media for EM Educators. Link available here

Steve Mathieu is a Consultant in Critical Care and Anaesthesia at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK. He designed and maintains the Wessex Intensive Care Society (WICS) website and is a Co-Director for the final FFICM Portsmouth INtensive Care Exam Revision (PINCER) Course

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