Physicians Need to Use More Discretion on Twitter, Study Suggests

by U.S. Medicine

March 10, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC—Today’s physicians need greater accountability and more guidelines concerning their use of Twitter®, according to a study by the Washington DC VA Medical Center. The study was published in the February 9 issue of the Journal of American Medicine. The Physicians on Twitter study set out to describe how self-identified physicians use Twitter with a specific focus on professionalism.

Katherine Chretien, MD, along with fellow investigators Justin Azar, from The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Terry Kind, MD, MPH, of Children’s National Medical Center, extracted descriptive characteristics from the public profile pages of self-identified physicians who had 500 or more Twitter followers. There were 260 physicians included in the analysis.

Investigators used the physicians’ most recent 20 tweets, collected between May 1 and May 31 for a total of 5,156 messages. Investigators defined a coding guide to categorize the tweets and found 49% (2,453) were health or medical related, 21% (1082) were personal communications, 14% (703) were retweets (another user’s tweets are rebroadcast), and 12% (634) were self-promotional.

Investigators discovered 144 tweets (3%) that they categorized as unprofessional and 0.7% represented potential patient privacy violations, 0.6% contained profanity, and 0.3% included sexually explicit material, while 0.1% included discriminatory statements. They found 12 tweets promoting specific health products the physicians were selling (representing potential conflicts of interest) and 10 were statements about medical treatments not supported by existing medical knowledge, potentially leading to patient harm.

The study suggests that physicians need more education and accountability to ensure their use of social media sites such as Twitter does not impact ethical and professional standards of the practice of medicine.

back to March articles


Related Articles

Veteran nephrologist labors to improve ESRD treatment at VA

When Terrence O’Neil, MD, retired as chief of nephrology at the James H. Quillen VAMC in Johnson City in December 2016, he left in his wake decades of work treating kidney disease—nearly 35 years in the Air Force and DoD, plus 11 more at VA.

Committee approves bill to provide agent orange benefits to ‘blue water’ vets

A long sought-after bill that would make it easier for Blue Water Navy veterans to receive Agent Orange benefits has been passed by a key House of Representatives committee.


U.S. Medicine Recommends


More From department of veterans affairs

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Veteran nephrologist labors to improve ESRD treatment at VA

When Terrence O’Neil, MD, retired as chief of nephrology at the James H. Quillen VAMC in Johnson City in December 2016, he left in his wake decades of work treating kidney disease—nearly 35 years in the Air Force and DoD, plus 11 more at VA.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Committee approves bill to provide agent orange benefits to ‘blue water’ vets

A long sought-after bill that would make it easier for Blue Water Navy veterans to receive Agent Orange benefits has been passed by a key House of Representatives committee.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Bill to Streamline, Expand VA’s Choice Program Signed Into Law

Legislation that would streamline VA’s community care programs into one program and expand VA’s caregiver program to veterans of all eras was signed into law earlier this month..

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Despite Criticism, VA Healthcare as Good or Better Than Other Systems

The good news from a recent consultant study is that, overall, the VA healthcare system is generally equal or better than others when inpatient and outpatient quality is measured.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

VA Inks Contract for Massive New Health Record System

Calling it one of the largest IT contracts in the federal government, with a ceiling of $10 billion over a decade, then-VA Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie announced that the agency signed a contract with Cerner for its new electronic health record (EHR).

Facebook Comment

Subscribe to U.S. Medicine Print Magazine

U.S. Medicine is mailed free each month to physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and administrators working for Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense and U.S. Public Health Service.

Subscribe Now

Receive Our Email Newsletter

Stay informed about federal medical news, clinical updates and reports on government topics for the federal healthcare professional.

Sign Up