Some things take a long time to catch on in medicine: Germ theory, for example. Perhaps if we’d had Twitter in the nineteenth century, it wouldn’t have taken so long. Though physicians’ use of Twitter has had a jump in recent years, there are still many who are not taking advantage of the benefits that this form of social media has to offer—neurologists in particular.

Oregon neurologist, Jeff Kraakevik, MD (@ohsuneuro), joined Twitter in 2009, and he says it has only been in the last few years that he has seen neurologists become more active on the platform. “When I first started on social media, there actually weren’t so many neurologists. So the people that I connected with were more people involved in medical education.”

Jeff Kraakevik, MD

Kraakevik is on the medical school faculty at Oregon Health & Science University, and he started his forays into Twitter searching #meded. He says hashtags like this are the best way to start navigating and finding people with the same interests as you. Today, there are more available to neurologists, like #neurology, #alzheimers, and #epilepsy. You can find many more medically related hashtags on the Healthcare Hashtag Project.

Kraakevik was one of the few neurologists early to Twitter, and it’s likely that this had to do with his involvement in academics. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) explains in this article why Twitter is trending among medical academics.

Over the years, Kraakevik has met a lot of medical educators through Twitter, and recently he has seen this benefit as a neurologist. “At the last Movement Disorder Society meeting we had a ‘Tweetup.’ This is a meeting pre-arranged through connections on Twitter. “There were maybe 10 people who showed up. A bunch of movement disorder neurologists. I don’t think five years ago, it would have been more than me and one other guy.”

Kraakevik also says Twitter is a quick way to get information outside his own sub-specialty and even outside his own country. “It’s really cool to be able to find out what’s going on in the UK, and what the Australian groups are doing, or what Germany is doing. And being able to post a question to a hashtag and then have a discussion without just having to sit in your office and think, ‘Well, it’d be good to talk to somebody about this.’”

Recently, for the first time, he tried Twitter’s polling feature. A Twitter Poll allows you to put out a question with a set of multiple choice answers to see where colleagues stand on an issue. Kraakevik says he got about 100 responses and it turned into a pretty big discussion.

Twitter has helped Kraakevik expand his professional connections and credentials.  He has spoken at the American Academy of Neurology conference and serves on their digital strategies subcommittee, all because of contacts made through Twitter.

A Word About Numbers on Twitter

One of the most prolific physicians on Twitter is Kevin Pho, MD. (@kevinmd). As of this writing, he has 159,000 followers. Justin Bieber has 105 million followers, just to keep things in perspective. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers, but Kraakevik says not to let them lead you astray if the reason you are on social media is for quality engagement. By way of example, he shares this story of social media from a recent Movement Disorders meeting:

This guy got up and he said he was really frustrated, because he made all these really great videos on how to do physical exam skills on people with Parkinson’s. Then he made this video about a guy who got a DBS and was a guitar player. In the OR, they gave him his guitar. Turned the thing on, and he could play his guitar again, and then they turned it off and he wasn’t able to play his guitar. So he was all frustrated because he said the guitar thing got 30,000 hits, and everything else is getting, like, 30 or 40.

“But if you’re not about trying to reach the general public, then 30 or 40 hits might actually be good. It might be what you want. Because you got 30 or 40 med students who didn’t know how to do it, who now do. It’s all about measuring your success and figuring out, do you want to be the person who has 10,000 followers? And if you do, you’re gonna have to really work on the branding side of things.”

Branding, like many other activities on Twitter can have its benefits. Before fully engaging in this (or any other) social media platform, it is worth considering just why you’re there. This, says Kraakevik, will be your ultimate guide to getting the most out of Twitter.