Idiot’s guide to twitter for health professionals – Twitter 101

“I don’t get Twitter.”

“I don’t have time to … um, tweet!”

“Nobody cares what I had for lunch.”


As an (ahem) senior medical staff member I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I talk about Twitter. Some people (most people?) haven’t actually had a look themselves but have views about it being lightweight, superficial and a time waster.


Twitter is part of a revolution in health care; we are moving from the one-way “doctor knows best” model to a two-way dialogue in which patients and carers are actively engaged with health professionals and participate in their own health care.


I use Twitter mostly professionally. Surprised? Since I joined, the answer to the question, “Did you see the xyz paper?” has turned from a probably ‘No’ to a certain ‘Yes’. I have seen everything! I have “met” amazing people all around the world; patients, carers, other health professionals, health care leaders.


There are heaps of articles about why health care professionals should use Twitter online. 

For me, the benefits in Twitter are in

  • seeing important palliative papers as soon as they are out,
  • learning about current and future research projects
  • gaining a better patient/carer perspective
  • meeting people I would not otherwise
  • hearing about interesting stuff from other fields, and
  • powerfully enhancing the conference experience. I can even ‘be’ at conferences without being there!

For research, it’s an amazing tool to bring together ideas and people and talk about their work. When I was looking at setting up a project to improve breathlessness in palliative patients, I asked my Twitter mates as well as doing a formal lit search. They kindly send me a stack of stuff including some unpublished data by leaders in the field which I had no way of knowing about otherwise. I was able to connect with people doing similar work in the UK.


Here’s a proper talk about how to get on to Twitter


My quick summary would be


  1. What is everyone talking about? Just jump on at and have a look. Search for a couple of hastags that are interesting to you. You could try #palliative or #hpmglobal (hospice and palliative medicine global).


  1. What is this # thing? A hashtag is a way that people mark the topic of their tweet. So for example, if I wanted to ask a question about opioid use in Africa and want to ask the global palliative community, I might tweet

interested in learning about #palliative opioid use in africa #hpmglobal


  1. Join up. Choose a user name or “handle”. Mine is @sonialf. You can tell it’s my username as it starts with “@”. If I had my time again I would separate my personal identity from my professional identity.


  1. Follow some people. To follow someone, click on their handle then press “follow”. You will then see all the tweets they make. Follow @palliverse, of course!


  1. Check out some chats. Try  #hpmglobal at 22:00 AEST on Monday nights and #hpm on Thursdays. Or #hcsmanz (health care social media Australia/New Zealand) at 20:00 AEST Sunday nights. Just type the hashtag into the search bar at the appropriate time, and viola! A group of people around the world come together at this prearranged time to discuss a predetermined topic. All their tweets will be marked with the relevant hashtag.


Next time… twitter 102 – I know what a hashtag is – what’s next?

Cheers, Sonia

Some references:

Should doctors use Twitter?


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