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AAMC 2014: Medicine in 140 Characters: How can Twitter Advance Research and Care?


Twitter isn’t just for Justin Bieber fans anymore. More and more doctors are using the microblogging service to find each other, and to share research. University of Utah Hospital Associate Vice President for Clinical Affairs Sean Mulvihill, M.D., spoke with Emory University’s Richard Duszak, M.D., (@RichDuszak) about all that can be accomplished in 140 characters or less.

Announcer: Broadcasting from the Algorithms for Innovation booth at the AAMC in Chicago. The Healthcare Insider is on The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Mulvihill: I'm here with Dr. Rich Duszak who's a radiologist at Emory University, and today we're going to explore a little bit about how doctors are learning to share curated information about their practices and about medicine in general through Twitter. Rich, you've been a pretty impressive person on the Twitter-sphere. Tell me how you got interested in it.

Duszak: Sean, well, first it's great to meet you in person. I've had a lot of these so called "Tweet-ups" over the last few days of people like you that I've gotten to develop these virtual relationships with. For me, Twitter came at the encouragement of a friend of mine who knew that I was trying to start up a Health Policy Institute for the American College of Radiology as a tool to reach out to potential partners for collaboration, for networking, for research opportunities. Really what it's evolved into for me is an opportunity to keep myself abreast of things that I'm particularly interested in and share those, not only to provide education in a collegial manner with colleagues, but also to learn and get feedback myself.

Mulvihill: Well, I would tell the audience that I follow Rich on the Tweets that he's had and I've learned stuff from you. You've found things that you've cited in your Tweets that I've then read and sometimes passed on to other people. So, how do you see this playing out as ways for doctors to communicate with each other and share knowledge? Where is this going?

Duszak: You know, I think in a way it is still relatively nascent. We're not clear where technology is going to wind up taking us, but as a radiologist for example, who trained back in the analog film era where everybody used to come down into our reading rooms and I used to interact with people all the time and love it as we enjoyed the technological revolution that we went through. Now I spend a lot of my diagnostic radiology clinical time in a dark room, occasionally talking to some people on the phone. So what I've missed as a result of that is a lot of the interaction with physician peers.

Then the other parallel thing I think that's evolved in a lot of the hospitals in which I've practiced is that the old doctor's lounge, the old doctor's reading room where people used to have the time to hang out, to talk to each other about individual patients, but also to share stories, no longer exists. So this has really, in a large way, filled that gap for me. Meeting new friends, people I like. And the beauty of having people pick you to follow is that it really winds up developing these virtual professional relationships that have replaced that, and in fact, in a lot of ways are superior to the old type of networking that I was familiar with.

Mulvihill: Yeah, that makes total sense. What I've been very interested in seeing is that there's almost a sense that knowledge is being vetted by one person and then passed on to others, and as you find interesting people to follow, it turns out that they discover things that you might not have found on your own. So, how do you find the kinds of things that you then talk about in your Twitter life?

Duszak: Most of the things that I've really found in my Twitter life have been through my Twitter life and it has been these relationships of what really, for me, has developed into a means for curated content. I think as we all started signing up for our respective professional societies and other organizations' emails, what I found at least for me, was that the signal to noise ratio increasingly became less favorable. And so for me, I've wound up narrowing my Follower list to a group of folks who have material that's of most interest to me.

So just as you've shared that you've picked up some stuff from me. For example, I wasn't familiar with all of the amazing stuff you're doing in Utah and have started actually following some of the people that you work with and have learned a lot in that way. In the process as well, there's a lot of people that have a lot of noise out there and the great thing about Twitter is you don't have to impolitely walk away from the lunch table in the doctor's lounge, you just hit the "Unfollow" button and move on.

Mulvihill: Well, it's just an amazing new way to share knowledge. I think we're still exploring how it's all going to work, but I'd encourage people to try it. It seems like there's a lot of interesting stuff out there and we're all trying to separate the wheat from the chaff and this is one way.

Duszak: Indeed, and I think one of the great things that I tell people when they're starting is that it is a little bit overwhelming figuring out things like hashtags. There's nothing wrong with lurking, just follow some people and if it's of interest to you, throw out a couple Tweets and you'll be surprised at the return you get on your time.

Mulvihill: Rich, thank you very much for a few minutes of you're time.

Duszak: Thanks, Sean. It's been a pleasure.

Announcer: Sparking conversations to transform academic medicine. For more, stop by our booth at the AAMC or go to, University of Utah, Health Sciences Radio.

By: Sean Mulvihill

Sean Mulvihill, M.D., is associate vice president for clinical affairs for University of Utah Health Sciences.