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Twitter.com can help nurses spread messages quickly, efficiently

Monday May 14, 2012
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Ab Brody, RN, PhD, GNP-BC, is an assistant professor at New York Universityís College of Nursing. Pat Iyer, RN, MSN, LNCC, is president of Avoid Medical Errors, a Flemington, N.J.-based company dedicated to helping consumers stay healthy. Andrew Lopez, RN, is a Mantua, N.J.-based nurse entrepreneur, who has several social media businesses.

Their professional nursing lives might be diverse, but all three use Twitter professionally and personally to connect with people who have similar interests.

How nurses use Twitter

Twitter is a social media platform that offers people a simple way to connect worldwide with others, based on interest and curiosity. Communication is more bursts of information and chatter than long-winded tales. With a limit of 140 characters, Tweets have to be short and to the point.

Brody uses Twitter to disseminate healthcare information and create networking connections with others in his field.

"I try to focus in my areas of expertise, which are geriatrics and palliative care, but branch out to other areas where I find professional materials that are interesting and appropriate," he said.

Twitter helps Iyer promote her business. "I use Twitter as a way for people to become more aware of my blog posts; to share information about sites that I have found to be useful; and also to share inspirational quotes," she said. "My Twitter account is also connected to my Facebook [and Linkedin], so, when I send out a Tweet, it goes to both of those other sites."

Lopez, who, in addition to working temporary nursing positions operates businesses such as NurseFriendly.com, said Twitter keeps him connected to people with whom he would not otherwise cross paths.

Under his handle, nursefriendly, Lopez engages in regular Twitter-based discussions, including a weekly breast cancer forum. "If you go there on Monday evenings ... you will find doctors, nurses, breast cancer survivors, who are very open and willing to answer questions," Lopez said. "If you are a person who wants to create awareness about a breast cancer organization, [or] if you are a registered nurse, an author, a reporter, who is looking to increase visibility online, you can go to a healthcare tweet chat. Say hello, introduce yourself and start answering questions, offer comments, get feedback. You will build up your followers very quickly."

Lopez said Twitter is a good place to go for networking of all kinds, including job hunting. Nurses market themselves by chatting in ways that make others realize their skills, knowledge and ability, he said.

Twitter pluses

Nurses said Twitter works to connect them not only with colleagues, but also to knowledge and opportunities. "I have gained knowledge in my area through following and reading tweets from various people and companies," Brody said. "These tweets have led to [my finding] new resources for patients and for my research, including journal articles, news stories, patient teaching pamphlets and other media resources."

Twitter drawbacks

With all the access, comes a lot of clutter. The most challenging aspects to Twitter are "filtering out the noise and finding the time," Brody said.

"While there are many resources and good discussions that can occur on Twitter, there is also a lot of marketing, nonprofessional related tweets, and even spam and links to viruses," Brody said. "Itís important, therefore, to be careful about who you follow, what you look at and what you pass on to your followers."

The drawbacks of using Twitter often relate to confidentiality and using common sense, Iyer said. "Donít put something on Twitter that will embarrass you in the future," she said. "Donít tweet when youíre angry, frustrated, upset. And remember, itís a public forum. Nurses have gotten in trouble not only on Twitter but also on Facebook for violating confidentiality."

Tweeting about patients, employers and co-workers can be professionally devastating. "I think clinically it would not be in the best interests for any nurse to be tweeting, especially while on the job. There are just too many variables with each patient, each situation and each disease state. I think if any nurses tweet, it is on a more social level to share their experiences anecdotally," said Janine Logan, communications director, Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council and Northern Metropolitan Hospital Association.

Donít give medical advice online, Lopez said. "Last night, I had a person say, 'I just cut off the tips of two of my fingers. I canít afford to go to the doctor. How can I take care of this?í I told him, 'I canít give medical advice. You have to go see a doctor,í" Lopez said.

Getting started is easy

Nurses can join Twitter for free. They simply go onto Twitter.com and set up a profile. As with other networking sites, there are ways to pay, if, for example, you want a fancier profile background than what Twitter offers for free.

Setting up the profile involves creating a name, or handle. "You can set up an account anonymously," Lopez said. "You can give as much or as little information about yourself as you want."

Lopez warns, however, the anonymity only goes so far. People can track you down, even with very little information. "Then, if your goal is to get followers, find people in your area of interest, follow them, and re-tweet [or share] tweets of theirs that you find interesting," said Brody, whose handle is abbrody.

According to Brody, Tweeters can engage with people or groups by replying to them. "Once you have started to build a following, adding more of your own content will help to boost your following further, as will joining in a chat such as the RNchat or HPMchat (hospice and palliative medicine chat)," he said.

Tweeters use the hashtag (#) as a way to flag key words within a Tweet. Iyer cites examples of using #ptsafety, to find content related to patient safety, or #nurse, for nursing.

"Thereís a whole group of hashtags, and anyone can make [them] or search for tweets that have a particular hashtag in them," Iyer said.

If nurses want to find or mention someone in particular, they would put the @ sign in front of the personís handle. In Iyerís case, it would be @avoidmederrors.

Put in as much or as little time as you feel appropriate. There is no way to keep up with everything on Twitter, Lopez said.

And keep things interesting, Tweeters agree. "Everyone makes fun of beginning Tweeters who tweet things like: 'Iím walking to the refrigerator to get a tuna fish sandwich.í [Instead,] share something meaningful that is going to bring value to other people who are going to be reading the tweet," Iyer said.


Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer. Send letters to editorNY@nurse.com or post a comment below.
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