JAMA Reports Sobering Stats on Physicians’ Use of Twitter

Do you “tweet” patients? Are your colleagues tweeting patients?

TwitterA recent study published in JAMA reported outcomes related to Twitter messages sent (tweeted) by self-identified physicians whose postings are followed by over 200 subscribers:

One hundred forty-four tweets (3%) were categorized as unprofessional. Thirty-eight tweets (0.7%) represented potential patient privacy violations, 33 (0.6%) contained profanity, 14 (0.3%) included sexually explicit material, and 4 (0.1%) included discriminatory statements. Of the 27 users (10%) in our sample responsible for the potential privacy violations, 92% (25/27) were identifiable by full listed name on the profile, profile photograph, or full listed name on a linked Web site. Fifty-five tweets (1%) were coded “other unprofessional,” including 12 possible conflicts of interest, such as making unsupported claims about a product they were selling on their Web site or repeatedly promoting specific health products, and 10 statements about medical therapies that were counter to existing medical knowledge or guidelines.

What does this wide range of surprising findings suggest?

My view is that these professionals probably are otherwise quite responsible in their work, but haven’t stopped long enough to consider the ramifications of their tweets upon the patients they are trying to serve. A little training could go a long way toward protecting their patients from the negative effects of their overly-enthusiastic use of technology. I’m probably one of the biggest technology advocates you can find, but caution is warranted with the populations we serve.

What’s your view?

*Chretien, K. C., Azar, J., & Kind, T. (2011). Physicians on Twitter. [Letter]. JAMA, 305(6), 566-568. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.68

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