Twitter’s benefits extend beyond ‘social’ aspects


In this interview, Stacy Loeb, MD (@LoebStacy), discusses why urologists should participate in Twitter, how it can benefit your daily practice, and some practical “dos and don’ts.”

Stacy Loeb, MD
Social media-Twitter in particular-has become a popular information and networking tool among some urologists. In this interview,

What aspects of social media should all practicing urologists consider?

I definitely think Twitter is the most important of the different forms of social media. Twitter is a micro-blogging service. It consists of very short “tweets” that are written about various topics. There are so many uses of this in urology. All of the major journals are on Twitter, and each conference has its own Twitter feed. At the AUA annual meeting this year, there were more than 9,000 tweets sent using the hashtag #AUA14. If you are not using Twitter as a urologist, you are missing out on a significant opportunity for education and networking.


How do you incorporate Twitter and social media into your daily practice?

One of the nice things about Twitter is that the tweets are so short-140 characters or less. You choose who you want to follow. I follow all of the urology journals, the AUA and other professional organizations, a group of other urologists, and a few things related to my hobbies like Syracuse basketball. So my feed is completely tailored to my interests. It consists of people that I want to hear from and news that I would read anyway. Instead of reading long news stories, I can quickly read very short clips.

As a busy urologist, the key is not to let this interrupt the time that you would otherwise be working. I avoid Twitter while I am busy with patient care or doing work at the computer. Instead, I incorporate Twitter when there’s dead time-on the subway, in line waiting for coffee, and other times when you would otherwise get nothing done. This provides an opportunity to read about new research and interact with your colleagues during what would have been completely wasted time.


How do you think it’s helped you in your practice?

I think there are a lot of ways it helps. The research aspects are very interesting. Every time someone comes out with a major new paper, it goes up on Twitter immediately. When I am writing new papers, it’s also a great resource for finding new references. There’s very nuanced discussion about these papers among urologists, which helps to inspire new research ideas. If a paper comes out that has some flaws that made it through the peer-review process, these are often pointed out on Twitter.

Twitter has also led me to make a lot of new friends and contacts within urology. I recently discovered an app called TweepsMap that shows you where your followers are from, and I found that mine are from 67 different countries. Numerous people approached me at the AUA meeting saying, “It’s nice to put a face to the Twitter handle.” It’s an effective way for urologists to get to know people from all over the world who have similar interests.


What about as some of the other forms of social media and even TV and radio? How does that all tie in?

I also host a radio show called the “Men's Health Show” on Sirius XM (channel 81). On Wednesday nights we discuss a variety of men’s health issues. On the radio show, I try to highlight all of the major research articles, and any time a new guideline comes out, we have the authors of the guideline on the show. I think that educating the public through all types of media is an extremely important aspect of practicing medicine. In fact, if we don’t disseminate new research and guidelines to the community, then we are doing a disservice. The real impact of our work is through its dissemination to the public.


Next: "Social media is very important for a department."


How much does social media help your department?

Social media is very important for a department. NYU has a Facebook page with updates about people in the department, and we also have an active Twitter feed. I think other urology departments should do the same. If members of the department are presenting at a scientific meeting, have an interview in the newspaper, or are hosting a course or a support group, social media is a great way to spread the word. People who share your interests are the people who will follow you, so it’s nice to be able to tell them about things that they probably will be interested in.


Should urologists and departments do this themselves or should they hire specialists?

It can be some of both. I definitely think all urologists should learn how to use social media because it’s hard to even work with an expert if you’re not familiar with it. I know a few urologists who have specialists working for them, but they don’t actually know how to use it and they miss out on some of the interaction that’s possible through Twitter when somebody mentions them or their work. It’s important that the urologist actually sees those interactions so they can respond directly; that’s what makes it “social” and what builds networks.

On the other hand, in terms of marketing and general strategy, it is useful to have an expert on hand. It also can be time consuming for an individual urologist if you are maintaining a Twitter feed for a whole department and trying to post updates of every person in the department. In that case, it is ideal to have somebody who is a true professional doing this, but certainly it’s possible for individual urologists to become very skilled with Twitter. For those considering starting an account, you don’t have to follow a lot of people or spend tons of time on it every day. Just slowly start to integrate it, and you will see real advantages.


Tell us about some of the dos and don’ts of Twitter.

There are a few codes of conduct that I would recommend that all urologists read. The AUA has a social media code of conduct, as does the British Journal of Urology International (BJUI) and the European Association of Urology. These guidelines emphasize how it’s important to always stay professional and not disclose any confidential information about patients on Twitter. This is a permanent record, so you should always go into it with the recognition that this could be available to anybody forever. You should avoid posting pictures of parties or anything that would be considered unprofessional. There have been disciplinary actions against physicians for certain social media posts.

However, if you have a general question about clinical management, you can use Twitter to “crowd-source” for advice as long as you don’t disclose anything confidential about the patient. For example, if a patient was concerned about BRCA and prostate cancer and you want more information about that topic, you can post on Twitter, “Does anyone know about the link between BRCA and prostate cancer?” You’ll likely get at least 10 replies within several seconds, including links to articles and experts weighing in from all over the world. “Phone a friend” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Also, you should never send a tweet from the operating room. Again, upholding patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance.


Next: Hashtags and how they should be used


Tell us about hashtags and how they should be used.

Hashtags involve putting the “pound” sign in front of a word, which converts it into a keyword. Any term in your tweet that is a search term or a keyword should have a hashtag in front of it. For example, my research is on prostate cancer, so if I’m posting about that topic, I try to include “#prostatecancer” in the tweet. That way, if somebody searches Twitter (which thousands of people do every minute) and they want more information about prostate cancer, they will see any of the tweets that use #prostatecancer in that search.

This feature is also very useful at meetings. If, for example, you were at the AUA meeting and missed a certain session, you could simply look at the entire feed for the conference using the hashtag #AUA14. It’s a great way to get very focused information if you’re a consumer of Twitter, and if you’re a user, to make sure that your information reaches the people who are most interested.


You mentioned that you have followers from over 60 countries. What types of individuals are your followers? Are they mostly physicians, patients, friends?

Most of them are urologists, nurses, and other health care providers. There are also a lot of people from the press, some biotech investors, and other Syracuse basketball fans. It’s really a very diverse group. In some cases, it’s not clear why people are following you. It could be they have a history of a urologic cancer, but that’s not obvious from their profile. As long as you keep everything professional and post good content, it shouldn’t really matter who they are.


What tips to do you have for a urologist starting out on Twitter?

It’s very important to focus on the quality of your content. My best advice for success with Twitter is being parsimonious and not just posting extraneous commentary all day. Urologists in Australia or South Africa don’t want to hear that I just ate a bagel for breakfast or that my flight was delayed. They’re interested in real content. If you’re sitting in a session at the AUA and a presenter shows an interesting new piece of data that you post-for example, Dr. Klotz presenting the long-term follow-up of active surveillance with a picture of the survival curve-your followers are getting quality information. My recommendation for people starting out is to keep it parsimonious by reserving your tweets for things that are important and that followers around the world would really want to know.


Next: Who urologists should follow



Besides organizations and publications that are involved in Twitter, what are some of the best groups or organizations to follow?

All of the major urology organizations are on Twitter. The AUA is important to follow because their feed has regular updates about the annual meeting and their other programs. The same goes for the European Association of Urology and the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand. The BJUI and European Urology are very active on Twitter. In fact, the BJUI even has a social media awards ceremony every year to congratulate the urologists who make the greatest contributions to the field through Twitter, which shows how much our field has started embracing this.

There are a lot of urologists on Twitter, ranging from trainees to many chairmen. In fact, more than 1,100 unique participants contributed to the Twitter conversation at the 2014 AUA meeting (#AUA14). It’s a great way for trainees and younger people just starting out to interact with some of the leaders in the field.


There’s a perception that mostly younger people are using social media. Is that changing?

Our data from the AUA show that younger members are more likely to use social media, but I think that this is changing and many people of all ages are now getting into it. Because it wasn’t around until recently, people who grew up many years ago weren’t using it during childhood, whereas most kids today are very familiar with social media. I think it’s just a function of when it came out. Twitter just started in 2006, at which time less than 30 health care professionals were using it and now there are more than 75,000, so people of all ages are starting to embrace this.


If you could only focus on one of the products or aspects of social media, which one would you recommend?

As an academic urologist, following conferences and emerging research on Twitter is the most important for me. It’s a great way to stay up to date on everything that’s happening in journals and at conferences. We can’t go to every meeting and there are often overlapping sessions at meetings. Now, if there is an important paper or presentation at any major meeting around the world, I feel confident that I will hear about it right away on Twitter even if I’m not there.


What do you think the future holds? What’s the next Twitter?

All of these forms of social media are going to continue growing significantly. One future direction may be the use of data from Twitter and Facebook for research. There’s some new research coming out in other specialites where interests listed on Facebook were correlated to conditions like obesity. Twitter has been used to predict the spread of epidemics around the world. This is very intriguing and something that urologists haven’t really tapped into yet. My prediction is that not only will the use of social media continue to grow at conferences and have greater applications in our field, but we may also start seeing some published research that is actually using all of this publicly available, free data.


Who do you think benefits most from Twitter?

I think we all do. I feel that I have had a substantive benefit in terms of research inspiration and meeting new colleagues. It has great benefit to anyone who uses it.UT

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