Tweeting About Medicine

Tweeting-MedicineThough medical school didn’t teach Anthony Shanks, MD, and Kenan Omurtag, MD, FACOG, how to use Twitter, they are finding ways to incorporate tweeting into their professional routines. In addition to surgeries, examinations, consultations and all the attendant duties of their work as obstetricians and gynecologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, these two physicians share information about their work through two different Twitter accounts plus the websites that serve Washington University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Infertility and Reproductive Medicine Center.

“We tweet primarily to encourage patients and prospective patients to visit our websites, which offer the more nuanced and comprehensive information they’re interested in,” says Omurtag.

Using two different handles – @WashUObGyn and @WUSTLFertility – Shanks and Omurtag regularly post updates about new research, clinical practices and physician activities, and share links to articles and relevant organizations such as the American Society of Reproductive Technology. And because tweeting isn’t a one-way street, followers use the Twitter platform to communicate with like-minded individuals, confident that the information they receive has been reliably vetted.

The Infertility and Reproductive Medicine Center launched its Twitter account in February and is one of a few infertility programs in the United States that has a social media presence beyond the standard website. Approximately two-thirds of such programs are not yet using social media.

Omurtag says finding the time to tweet frequently can be a challenge given his clinical responsibilities. His goal is to develop a department-wide social media policy that will address a variety of important issues, including platform management, tweet guidelines and best practices for building a following.

Launched near the end of 2009 as a tool for recruiting residents, the digital strategy for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has grown to include using Twitter as a way to connect with alumni and to share patient stories; each specialist in the department contributes information. “We know that prospective residents use social media to stay connected,” says Shanks. “Our tweets can give them a look at what we’re doing over the course of a year.”

Additionally, Shanks and Omurtag have collaborated to develop Washington University-branded iPhone apps for residents: an obstetrics and gynecology calculator and a quick reference guide. And they occasionally use the online platforms Instagram and Vine to augment their Twitter feeds.

All Barnes-Jewish Hospital residents participate in social media training that includes the guidelines established by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding HIPAA. They learn about the potential pitfalls, including how to avoid sharing information that could be construed as medical advice. Sensitive to these issues, Shanks and Omurtag avoid using the more conversational Facebook platform.

“Social media in medicine can be treacherous,” says Shanks. “Simply put, our goal is to share the work we’re proud of so the world outside our walls knows what we’re doing.”

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Category: Women & Infants

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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