Student Researchers Examine Twitter Use Among Health Care Professionals

Augustana Student Researchers Examine Twitter Use Among Health Care Professionals

From left to right: Kyle Wendland, Taylor Hanzel, Jessa Richards, Paige Schwitters and Kirsten Smith presented their research "Trending: #DocsOnTwitter" on Tuesday, May 17, on campus. Photo by Dr. Mitch Kinsinger.

If you’re like most Americans, odds are you’ve Googled a symptom or health care concern looking for answers.

But, have you ever considered following your physician on Twitter? Or, attaching a hashtag to your symptom to find others who might be tweeting about the same concern?

For the past semester, students in Dr. Jaciel Keltgen’s “Health Care Marketing” class have tracked and analyzed Twitter usage by medical professionals to better understand how social media can link the public to health care professionals.

The students presented their report, “Trending: #DocsOnTwitter,” today on campus.

The project was led by AU students Jessa Richards, Taylor Hanzel, Kyle Wendland, Kirsten Smith and Paige Schwitters. The group worked with 2011 Augustana grad Jamie Martin, a data acquisition engineer at BrightPlanet, a deep web intelligence company, to analyze more than 3.3 million tweets identified as coming from health care professionals.

Tweets were analyzed for content, use of hashtags, mobile device use, frequency, medical relevance, specialty, gender and approximate age. 

Read the “Trending: #DocsOnTwitter” white paper.

The students said they hope their research will shine a light on a knowledge gap they say exists between patients and health care providers.

“Health care as an industry has been slow to adopt marketing strategies. Today’s competitive environment, movement toward vertical integration, widespread chronic illness, an older demographic, and a highly technical world points toward changes in the way medical care (diagnosis, treatment and follow-up) is delivered and advice is communicated,” the students said. “This seemed like a gap in our knowledge that we could explore.”

According to the students, in a society where time has never been more valuable, social media can offer health care providers efficient opportunities to connect with their constituents.

“Physicians are busy professionals who must keep up on developments in their fields, see increasing numbers of patients in the aftermath of the ACA, and care for patients who may not be healthy enough to travel because of age or illness. Physicians must be aware of, and respond to cultural, technological, societal, economic and environmental change. Social media offers an inexpensive, speedy way to communicate with colleagues, patients and consumers interested in health.”

– #DocsOnTwitter Student Researchers

In addition to learning about their topic, the students said working on the project provided them with immeasurable hands-on experience.

“This is amazing stuff. This wasn’t a classroom exercise. We learned how to network, how to work with deadlines, how to deliver on high expectations, and how to proceed smoothly as a team of individuals with differing strengths and abilities,” they said. “The ability to adapt and be flexible was also important.”