Twitter: An Essential Tool for the Physician Executive


Accepted for publication by Physician Executive. Originally published 1/25/10 on Private Views

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 ( 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 100thBirthday 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. ( 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 US

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 (, 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? (

Twitter & Conference

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 ( 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 lives in Philadelphia where he is an independent health care consultant, keynoter, and writer. He can be reached at or 610 639 4956.


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