Doctors should use Twitter to understand their patients, study says

Twitter could help doctors relate to their patients better, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia spent six months keeping track of tweets about stem cell research, especially as it relates to spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease. They were surprised to find that, for most people, the use of stem cells isn’t controversial. Instead, people shared how research breakthroughs had given them hope.

The fact that medical professionals were often sharing and discussing news from their field was also unexpected, because doctors don’t have a reputation for embracing social media. But it turns out that around 25% of tweets about spinal cord injury and 15% about Parkinson’s were posted by medical professionals.

Although researchers have suggested using Twitter to gauge where disease outbreaks are most likely, there have been few studies into how people process and share health information via social media. Lead author of this research, neurology professor Julie Robillard, says, ‘Many people go online for health information, but little research has been done on who is participating in these discussions or what is being shared.’

She and her colleague Emanuel Cabral concluded that looking at what kind of information non-professionals are reading and sharing via Twitter could help doctors to understand what kind of information their patients are taking in. This should help them to anticipate what they’re likely to be asked about, and make them better prepared during appointments. Plus, they’ll get to see more Harry Styles gifs than they ever thought possible.

Diane Shipley