A Late Starter’s Guide to Tweeting for Health


Let’s be honest, health care has always attracted innovation. Since long before the dawn of the blood transfusion (a rather gross history in my opinion) and vaccines all the way to six-sigma catheter lists and electronic medical records – health care professionals and professional innovators have had a long and fruitful relationship. Meaning it is no surprise that social media and health have great opportunity to collaborate…and boy are they collaborating. Social impact games for health, social networking sites for health, crowd sourcing for health, mHealth, and much more are all converging to bring about large changes in how the world gives, receives, and talks about health care.

However, rather than extolling all of the virtues of social media with relation to health, which would be the longest blog EVER, I thought I’d focus in on social networking. Specifically Twitter. Now we probably all know of the non-health-related side of Twitter that includes starlet’s selfies and the public frenemy declarations of so many of our favorite celebs. And for a long time, that was all I knew about Twitter and I was content to let that be the extent of my knowledge about this vast platform. After all, why sign up for one more social networking site when I can read my celeb gossip anonymously in the checkout line at Target?

Suffice it to say that when it came to adopting innovations, I was slower than my 90-year-old Grandma when it came to Twitter. Sorry Grandma Peggy, but it’s true. I tried an account in 2008, gave up after a few posts. Tried again in 2011, couldn’t do it. So now that I’m trying it in earnest, I thought I should call in the help of a professional. And since there isn’t really a Weight Watchers style program for keeping you accountable to your social media goals, I sat down with a colleague and friend of mine, Emily Bosworth Murphy, to get the skinny on where I should get started in a world that is now immensely saturated with tweets. I left with two big takeaways. First, wow is health care innovating with the help of social media – in the U.S. and (maybe even more so) internationally. Second, Twitter is truly a fabulously multi-faceted tool. To that end, I thought Emily did a really nice job of boiling down what Twitter brings to health by these three main categories:

  1. Journalistic – This would include advocacy and calls to action as well as general news of the day.
  2. Academic – Such as the newest and latest research and/or journal articles.
  3. Industry Specific – Think of those key individuals that you would turn to in order to keep up on the pulse of your all things health – as broadly or specifically as you prefer.

I should say that even as I typed those, it was obvious to me that the lines often blur, but I thought that these three categories provided a helpful framework for thinking about how emerging health professionals and health care consumers can engage with Twitter.

So now you know what Twitter has to offer, but what do you do once you get your profile all set up and you’re actually ON Twitter? For that I have a quick little list of Do’s and Don’ts.


  • Post substantive information
  • Develop standards within your workplace if you’re tweeting for business
  • Tweet often
  • Be intentional about who you follow
  • Log in every day at least
  • Engage with others by sharing information
  • Respond calmly to feedback, particularly if this is for work
  • Have Fun
  • Acknowledge positive tweets and re-tweets with a thank you
  • Share original content
  • Ask questions to engage your audience


  • Leave your bio or photo blank
  • Only post for one purpose (fundraising, self-promotion, etc…how monotonous)
  • Overuse hashtags #overusinghashtags #hashtaghound #hashtastic
  • Spam people on Twitter
  • Be too private or bland
  • Be afraid to have a point of view
  • Forget basic grammar and spelling
  • The last don’t deserves extra attention. In health work it is important that we definitely DON’T become relaxed about HIPAA standards when sharing on social media. It seems obvious, but I feel I should share this recent article that serves as a warning for how not to use Facebook. It is a good reminder to have a social media policy for your workplace and make sure every employee understands what is expected of them.

Still unconvinced as to whether you should be engaging with health generally through social media? Well I’m hardly in the place advocate, so I’ll defer to my conversation with Emily again. In her opinion here are three distinct advantages:

  1. The opportunity for patients and doctors to find a community of support.
  2. A vast trove of medical information, much of which is true (if you know where to look).
  3. Consumer driven transparency through crowdsourcing.

Speaking of transparency, I’ll admit that I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out who I should follow on Twitter in order to get the best use out of this awesome resource. If you’re sharing my late starter’s remorse, try scanning through this recent (totally awesome) blog by Adam Rapp, Top 100 Twitter Accounts For Healthcare Professionals To Follow. If you don’t leave with at least a few folks to add to your feed, I’ll be surprised. I should preface that Dr. Oz is on the list, so I’m not sure that it is 100% foolproof. Perhaps you love the good doctor, but I personally have always found it hard to take seriously a man who asks his guests to pop a giant pimple on television. Grandma Peggy always said: keep your dirty pores to yourself.

Featured image by Ambro via http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/


13 thoughts on “A Late Starter’s Guide to Tweeting for Health

  1. Great post. I also thought that Twitter was mainly for keeping up with celebrity gossip and voting on The Voice. But I look forward to exploring Twitter more next week, and I will definitely check out that list of people to follow that you posted.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I actually started exploring twitter in week 2 thinking it was a form of social networking. Little did I know the giant trap i was walking in to! Heather Mansfield’s book touches briefly on how twitter is not social networking in the start of chapter 4 and elaborates on how to use microblogging separately from social networking, but I didn’t actually think it did justice to the history of how twitter has tried to set itself apart from Facebook and other social networking sites. Wikipedia describes it as both microblogging and social media (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter) where as this blog with video from former twitter ceo evan williams shows that he disagrees (http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4859/Is-Twitter-a-Social-Network.aspx). This raised an interesting question for me: what really IS the difference and in what ways does that impact how we interact with the different media channels?

      I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts!

  2. Those three main categories mentioned by your friend Emily helps Twitter become a much more approachable tool in my opinion. I also second your point about Twitter being a great place for “consumer driven transparency through crowdsourcing.” Your post in addition to our activities this week have caused me to resurrect my defunct Twitter account. I also, like you, opened an account in 2008 and until this week hadn’t touched it since… 2008.

    • Hi Deb,

      Glad you liked Emily’s contribution – she actually took a class with Caricia during her graduate work on campus and was a huge resource for new and interesting trends in social media. She talked briefly about a trend in health care where consumers (aka patients) are pressing for more transparency within pricing structures by sharing the cost of various medical procedures on line. Given some what we discussed in our policy course last summer I thought this was a powerful opportunity to push further transparency in health care and (if we got really good at it) potentially drive down costs! I’ll be curious to hear how you enjoy twitter this week 🙂

  3. Good post Teresa. I just joined Twitter (I’ve been misspelling Twitter to Tweeter) 2 days with 1 follower (happened to be Sun) and 15 following. I still not getting the ropes and the mechanisms on how to make the best out of it. By reading this post, it somewhat enlighten me how to get information and enjoy this social media. Thank you.

    • Hi Ron, II’m glad you’re enjoying getting started – ‘ll look around for you on Twitter! I’m a little slow out of the gate, but I’m working on building a little bit each day. I need to be better about generating content, but it’s hard to build a space for a new form of social media when you haven’t really prioritized it before. Who knows, maybe in a year I’ll be a total twitter hound – either way, I think you and I are starting off with good company – maybe we need to create a support group on Meet Up for late arrivers to the Twittersphere…

      • Great post Teresa,
        The number one thing is to update regularly and consistently. Never log back on and apologize how life got in the way. Just write new content consistently. Once a week, twice a week, once a month, whatever; pick a schedule and stick to it.

      • Thanks for the tip Melody! I agree, but man can it be time consuming. Even just signing up for google+, wordpress, and twitter in the last two weeks has spread me thin on my social media coverage 🙂 That said – I completely agree with you! I also liked some of the tips from our Social Media for Social Good book about how often each platform should be updated. I found those helpful for sorting through how often I should be worrying about each item.

  4. Teresa, your post is really great! For your “don’ts” – besides the pimple popping don’t, that is – #2 is the biggie for me…”if you know where to look”. I guess that same question stands for poking around on the internet for sources. There are some clinics that I know the informaiton they put out there will be reliable and accurate (Mayo Clinic, Stanford, Harvard), but not so much others (won’t mention those specifically). On Twitter, these are the sources I might look into following.

    • Hi Renee,

      I thought this was an interesting point that Emily made and my immediate reaction was similar to yours. Specifically that there is so SO much misinformation out there about health and medicine. In context of our conversation, I think Emily was referring more to international health and access to telemedicine, but I used the broader statement that she made while emphasizing knowing where to look. I think we, in this group, are pretty lucky because we know what good resources look like and where to begin our search, but there are hosts of people who will believe every yahoo answers forum they read and it is pretty frightening what you can find out there.

      Thanks for the tips on which sources you think are strongest!

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