Twitter: An Essential Tool for the Physician Executive

Every morning at 5:30 AM, I am at my computer scouring the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other news sources for articles about health care and wellness. These articles are then summarized in 140 characters with a link to the original article and tweeted. As of today there are 3070 followers of my informal aggregated health care news service, and I hear about it if I am late or slack off on the job. My twitter community depends on me, and I depend on them.

Twitter has transformed my professional life as an independent physician executive consultant-keynoter who advises health systems and medical groups. Twitter is the main tool I use to monitor the latest developments in the world of health care delivery, payment reform, and physician integration.

I follow about 1,000 health care professionals on twitter, and I often learn about developments in real-time long before they hit the newspapers and journal articles. A few months ago, I was preparing a keynote for a Governance Institute Conference on Social Media for Hospitals and Doctors. One of the people I follow on twitter mentioned a Deloitee Touche white paper on just this subject. I looked it up and included some of their findings and recommendations in my talk (http://ow.ly/29QZy). Without my twitter community, I would probably have never seen this valuable resource.

My Twitter Community

My twitter community has become an extremely powerful resource for my professional development. When I mentioned in a tweet that I was going to be in Boston speaking at a World Health Care Congress last year, three of my followers suggested we meet in person to discuss health care transformation. Instead of having room service alone in my hotel room, I had a delightful lunch with @janicemccalum and an informative dinner with @healthblawg. In between conference sessions I also networked with @susancarr. Janice McCallum is a digital publishing expert and product strategist who specializes in data analytics. Months after our lunch, Janice invited me to attend 2010 Data Content: The Infocommerce Conference in my hometown of Philadelphia where I learned how construction, chemical, and legal ratings companies are managing data in the digital age. Healthblawg in real life is David Harlow, a well known health care attorney who has become my go to guy with legal questions about reform. Susan Carr is the bio editor of Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare Magazine, and I now have a new resource in this area.

In December I hosted a holiday potluck in my home so that Philadelphia area members of my twitter community could meet in person. It was really an enjoyable event to finally put a face to a twitter buddy who I had been learning from for years. Attendees included a health care economist, a customer relationship marketing director from a pharma company, a CEO of a healthcare innovation company, a nurse entrepreneur, a children’s hospital executive, a University of Pennsylvania senior, a biotech start-up executive, and a mergers and acquisitions managing partner. Business cards were exchanged and who knows what will develop, but I now have met several of my twitter community and feel even closer to them.

Getting Speaking and Consulting Gigs

There is no doubt in my mind that my online presence has led to keynote and consulting opportunities. When Swedish Hospital in Seattle was planning its 100th Birthday Celebration Conference, Melissa Tizon, communications director at the hospital, contacted me to speak on payment reform and social media; she told me she followed my tweets and knew I was the right person for these subjects. While at that conference I got to meet the CEOs of GE and Epic who also spoke during the program.

When Pamela Lewis Dolan of American Medical News wrote about the new Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media she quoted me because I was a well-known active physician tweeter. (http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2010/08/09/bil20809.htm) Several keynote clients of mine have stated they first learned of me from this news article.

My Research Department Works for Free and Is Scattered Across USA

I remember distinctly marveling at how Procter & Gamble taps into freelance inventors all over the world to come up with more than half of their new consumers products. Little did I know when I read about this example of mass collaboration in Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (http://ow.ly/3kvWP), I would soon be able to apply this same principle in outsourcing for free my research needs as a consultant to hospital systems and medical groups.

Last year I was preparing to facilitate a medical staff board retreat on Computer Physician Order Entry (CPOE) and Information Technology for a hospital in the West. As preparation for the weekend session I wanted to send a white paper to all the participants, but I had trouble locating the perfect document. I typed a cry for help to my 1000 twitter followers: “In need of white paper on getting doctors to accept CPOE.” Within a day, @ahier, a health care information technology expert in Oregon who I have never met face to face, emailed several overviews that worked perfectly.

This month I woke up early to check out twitter before heading off to help with a leadership training academy for a health care organization that is seeking to transition from a manufacturing company to a solutions shop. I noticed that one of the healthcare professionals I follow (@lizasisler) posted a tweet with a link to a blog post about the potential uses of Microsoft’s Kinect technology for health care. After reading the link, I used the information in my presentation to the leadership academy 5 hours later the same day. How is that for just in time research from an unpaid colleague who lives in Cleveland? (http://ow.ly/3kwOm)

Twitter & Conferences

As I write this on December 6, 2010 I noticed in my twitter feed that I can follow today’s 2010 Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center Symposium, Achieving the Vision: Advancing High-Value Health care by following the hash tag #mayohpc. Most of the conferences I attend now encourage participants to tweet during presentations so that a permanent record of the conference exists on twitter. Tweet streams allow me to keep up on conferences that are too far away or too expensive for me to attend, and I can read them when I have time (not necessarily in real-time).

Martin Ebner (http://www.slideshare.net/mebner/how-people-are-using-twitter-at-conferences) has studied the use of twitter at conferences before, during and after a conference. I certainly learned the utility of twitter before the 2010 ICSI Annual Colloquium. When I used twitter in the weeks and months before the meeting, I was able to attract participants from all over the country to sign up, identify speakers who were experts on innovation in health care, and discover hot topics that were being discussed on twitter.

During the conference, twitter can encourage networking between participants. Ebner found that attendees used twitter to share resources, communicate with others, participate in parallel discussions, jot down notes, establish an online presence, and pose organizational questions. Ebner quotes two participants, one with a positive view of twitter at conferences and one with a negative view:

“In the background we discussed things more deeply than the guys on the stage.”

“Twitter can be distracting – you pay less attention.”

After the conference, the tweet stream from a conference can also be used as a permanent record of the discussion, and it can extend the conversation for days and months after the actual event is over and everyone has gone home.

Twitter has become an extremely powerful professional tool for me as an independent physician consultant/keynoter.

Kent Bottles, MD, is past-Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Iowa Health System (a $2 billion health care organization with 23 hospitals). He was responsible for the day-to-day operations of a large education and research organization in Michigan prior to his work with in Iowa with IHS. Kent posts frequently at his new blog, Kent Bottles Private Views.

7 replies »

  1. Unfortunately too many people use Twitter for blatant self promotion and promoting their company. People follow you only when you provide something of value – something that can provide a ‘better’ something that will help me in my private life, or business or whatever it is that I do.

    If I just continue to toot my horn on twitter, it goes nowhere and no one follows.

  2. Kent,
    Thanks for including me in your Twitter community. I, too, have found Twitter an incredibly useful tool for connecting with like minds who often have complementary expertise, which is often difficult to do in our offline comparmentalized work environments.
    As you write above (and say in your BlogTalkRadio broadcast: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/kentbottles/2011/01/28/muddling-through-the-week-in-health-care), Twitter is also a useful productivity tool. I connect Twitter to my delicious bookmarks via packratius (http://packrati.us/) and all of my hashtags become delicious tags that I can later use to recall posts by tag (and can edit, delete, or mark posts as private). I’m still using delicious, even though its future as part of Yahoo is in question, but if not delicious there are other options for enhanced bookmarking services, including Diigo.
    I look forward to continued collaboration with you and others in my Twitter community, most of whom I would never have “met” if not for Twitter.
    Oh, just one little thing, my Twitter address has a typo in it above, it should be @janicemccallum.

  3. Thanks for the comments Kent. I also enjoy your tweets.
    I’ve had a similar experience with Twitter. I find it helpful in sharing articles quickly (www.twitter.com/gvanantwerp) without waiting until I have time to blog about them (www.georgevanantwerp.com).
    I’ve posted questions and gotten timely answers from people who I don’t know (e.g., last week I was looking for a PBM RFP and got two of them).
    I’ve seen news break.
    I’ve connected with new people.
    And, I’ve found it a great tool for following conference I miss (as there are just too many) and sharing key quotes from conferences I attend.

  4. Great comments Kent… I am one of your loyal followers and anxiously await your weekend review of the best print media has to offer!

  5. A Related Word on Medical Practice Marketing and Blogging
    Kent – There’s all sorts of advice on why and how to blog in order to promote a medical practice or personal brand. Yet, most doctors haven’t scratched the surface to understand what blogging is actually about and what roles it may play in their overall strategic presence – on and offline.
    But, all doctors and practices have different concerns and goals, and every media, communications and marketing strategy is different from the other.
    Today, “blogging” just doesn’t mean the publishing of content on a website. It’s more about being proficient in various media: from traditional to emerging; a new set of skills every doctor or physician executive needs to acquire and hone. Blogging is a constant learning process. It’s also a way to reveal strengths and weaknesses inherent in any healthcare organizations, culture and processes.
    Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™

  6. Kent,
    I think you’re right; Twitter is valuable for sharing links and ideas about health care; it keeps me informed about medical news and ideas. And it’s a cool way to connect with people with shared interests.
    But I worry about its use in patient care, and by some doctors and hospitals that use it for marketing in ways that aren’t clear to the public. Please see related ML post – http://bit.ly/bWAZua