HealthManagement, Volume 15 - Issue 2, 2015

Getting Started With Twitter

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The growth of social media for medical CPD has been astronomical over recent years. More and more healthcare professionals are taking to Twitter to share useful papers and educational resources. The emphasis on encouraging Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) is embedded throughout these interactions. We have no intention of reinventing the wheel with this one, but have tried to combine the wealth of information already out there with a few of our own experiences. Hopefully this will help newcomers to Twitter, and perhaps persuade those still resisting to come on board.

What is Twitter?

  • Online social networking/microblogging platform enabling users to send and read text-based messages (‘tweets’).
  • Limited to 140 characters [see highlighted text below to see how long that is!].
  • Photos can be tweeted.
  • You only read tweets of people you follow.
  • Anyone can follow you, although you can block them if you wish.


  • Global conversation with likeminded individuals interested in the latest medical practice and literature.
  • It’s acceptable just to watch if you prefer.
  • Follow conferences even if you are not there.
  • Social networking and friendships develop and can be consolidated at conferences, with colleagues across the globe.

What does it mean to follow someone on Twitter?

This means that you’ve chosen to subscribe to their Twitter updates. You can unfollow them at any time. Similarly, anyone is able to follow you. If you decide that you do not wish for them to do this, you can always ‘block’ them. You can easily see who is following you.

Who should I follow?

Have a look at someone you know, who is already using Twitter for medical education purposes, and look at their list of people they are following. You will quickly learn to recognise the Twitter characters who are reliable and useful, and after a period of Twitter interaction, you should start building up your own following.

What’s @ and # all about?

@TwitterID directs your message to that person. You can add other names if you want to send to multiple, but beware the character limit. If ‘@’ appears at the start of the tweet it will go to that person AND anyone who is following both you and them. If ‘@’ appears later in the tweet, it will go to that person and ALL of your followers.

To illustrate this, if you send the following tweet ‘@avkwong this blog is rubbish’ - I will receive this message and anyone that is following both of us. If you send ’This blog is rubbish @avkwong’ or ‘This blog by @avkwong is rubbish’ - I will receive this message and also ALL of your followers – thanks!

A Direct Message (DM) This is a private message and visible only to you.

# (hashtag) is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. Anyone can make a hashtag at any time, simply by typing a phrase of the form ‘#topic’ in a tweet (again no spaces). This creates a page specific to that hashtag and whenever someone tweets and includes this hashtag, it will be visible on this page as well as to anyone who follows them.

Many hashtags have already been created, and medical conferences will advertise the ones they are using e.g. #isicem15 (International Symposium on Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine 2015), #ISCSOA2015 (State of the Art Meeting, ICS 2015) and #smaccUS (Social Media and Critical Care Conference 2015). The days of writing notes at conferences (if you did in the first place) have also gone if the conference is well covered by avid Twitter users. Photos of conference slides, posters and equipment at trade exhibitions can also be tweeted and shared.

What’s Twitter not so good for?

Apart from your social life, it is not a great platform for having extensive discussion and debate. This often is difficult to fit in 140 characters, and results in huge number of tweets about one topic, and the context of these key messages can often be lost in translation.

A word of caution with using Twitter

You should comply with the general Medical Council (UK)’s ‘Good Medical Practice’ ( or equivalent in your country, and it is worth having a look at the brief gMC regulations (

Personal experience

We have found Twitter a fantastic vehicle for learning, sharing and discussing t he latest literature, resources and details at conferences. It still amazes us that we were able to have discussions about the TTM trial on Sunday 17 November 2013 as it was being discussed in Dallas (have we decided yet 33°C or 36°C?!). Access to information, working collaboratively and encouraging each other in a really friendly and supportive way must be credited to Twitter and all the incredible FOAMites involved (see Figure 1). Join now!


Figure 1. Twitter Discussion


  • Register at
  • Install the App on your mobile device(s)
  • Follow users and hashtags (#)
  • No, you DO NOT have to contribute
  • It is OK to watch

The original article in our sister journal ICU Management included Twitter suggestions specific to intensive care medicine. These are the HealthManagement team’s suggestions.


Latest developments in healthcare management, leadership, patient and staff safety, best practice, economics, industry developments and much more.



The Journal of the American Medical Association, published since 1883, is an international, peer-reviewed medical journal published weekly.



The Institute of Healthcare Management is the leading independent membership organisation for health and social care managers.



Our purpose is to develop outstanding leadership in health, to improve people’s health and their experience of the NHS.



Official Twitter account of the World Health Organization, the United Nations’ health agency.


Figure 2. JAMA Twitter page