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Medicine's Twitter traffic growing

Research involving use of the CMA's main Twitter channel indicates that tweeting by Canada's doctors is on the upswing.

The research, which involved 411 physicians who had been following @CMA_DOCS, showed a consistent increase in the use of the social media tool. The results were presented in a poster presentation at the Medicine 2.0 World Congress on Social Media, Mobile Apps, Internet/Web 2.0 in September.

Results of the study, conducted by Drs. Naheed Dosani and Stephen Pomedli, came as no surprise to Dr. Chris Simpson.

Simpson, a cardiologist based in Kingston, Ont., began using Twitter regularly earlier this year during his successful campaign to become Ontario's nominee to serve as president-elect of the CMA. In an interview in the CMA's Future Practice magazine, Simpson described Twitter as an "extremely useful" tool because it collects large amounts of medical and political information in one place.

He is also starting to recognize the useful role it can play in medical education. "For those of us who have the philosophy that we want to graduate docs who are better than we are, Twitter is a great thing," he said. (The full interview with Simpson and other doctors who are using Twitter regularly is available in the September 2013 issue of Future Practice.)

During their well-attended poster presentation, Dosani and Pomedli said Twitter has emerged as the dominant social media platform for health care in Canada because it supports "increasingly rich" interactions between health providers and the public.

Because of the challenges associated with assessing Twitter use within Canada's entire physician population, Dosani and Pomedli - residents at the University of Toronto - chose to focus only on the doctors who followed and were followed by the @CMA_DOCS account.

Their analysis showed that 47% of this cohort identified themselves as family physicians, and 68% were from Ontario. However, the study population also included physicians from numerous disciplines, different regions and every career stage.

An analysis of the 193,192 tweets sent by these physicians from July 2012 to August 2013 showed a "steady and consistent increase" in their Twitter traffic. Dosani and Pomedli noted that the tweets covered numerous topics, and were not limited to discussions about health and health care.

"Based on the increasing frequency of Twitter use among this cohort, there is a need for more awareness and acceptance of, and academic approaches to, social media use among clinicians," they concluded.

A more comprehensive assessment of Twitter use by Canadian physicians will soon be available because social media use is one of the topics to be covered in the 2014 National Physician Survey.

As well, the CMA will be surveying its e-Panel members next year to assess trends in the use of social media by doctors. The last survey was conducted in 2010.

The CMA's policy on physician use of social media, Social media and Canadian physicians: issues and rules of engagement, was adopted in 2011.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.