Once upon a time, physicians wrote letters to peers and colleagues around the world, sharing their medical discoveries, theories, case reports, and questions; conferring on problems; and then waiting for return mail to bring a reply. And the science of medicine advanced at a glacial pace.
Today, communication in multiple mediums flows much faster, almost instantaneously, between many more physicians, regardless of distance, addressing a much greater complexity of medical topics and treatments. And one of the chief mediums for this rapid electronic conversation among doctors is Twitter, according to Charlie Wray, DO, MS, a hospitalist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Wray, associate editor and digital media editor for the Journal of Hospital Medicine, is one of the moderators of #JHMchat, a monthly get-together on Twitter for interested hospitalists to link up virtually; respond to questions posed by JHM editors and other moderators; exchange perspectives, experiences, and tips with their peers; and build professional relationships and personal friendships. Relationship building has become particularly important in the age of COVID-19, when opportunities to connect in person at events such as SHM’s annual conferences have been curtailed.
The online #JHMchat community began in 2015, shortly after Dr. Wray completed a hospitalist research fellowship at the University of Chicago. His fellowship mentor, Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, MHM, associate chief medical officer for the clinical learning environment at University of Chicago Medicine, had noticed how other online medical communities were engaging in discussions around different topics.
“She thought it could be a great way for hospitalists to meet online and talk about the articles published in JHM,” Dr. Wray explained. “We were all getting into social media and learning how to moderate interactive discussions such as Twitter.”
The chat’s founders approached JHM’s then-editor Andrew Auerbach, MD, MHM, a hospitalist at UCSF, who agreed that it was a great idea. They asked Christopher Moriates, MD, author of a recently published paper on the advisability of nebulized bronchodilators for obstructive pulmonary symptoms and assistant dean for health care value at the University of Texas, Austin, to come on the chat and talk about his paper. Visiting Dr. Arora at the time, he joined her in her living room for the first chat on Oct. 12, 2015. Seventy-five participants posted 431 tweets, with a total of 2 million Twitter impressions, suggesting that they had tapped a latent need.
How the chat works
To participate in the JHM chats on Twitter, one needs to open an account on the platform (it’s free) and follow the Journal’s Twitter feed (@jhospmedicine). But that’s pretty much it, Dr. Wray said. The group convenes on a Monday evening each month for an hour, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Upcoming chats and topics are announced on Twitter and at SHM’s website.
The chats have grown and evolved since 2015, shifting in focus given recent social upheavals over the pandemic and heated discussions about diversity, equity, and racial justice in medicine, he said. “When COVID hit, the journal’s editor – Dr. Samir Shah – recognized that we were in a unique moment with the pandemic. The journal took advantage of the opportunity to publish a lot more personal perspectives and viewpoints around COVID, along with a special issue devoted to social justice.”
Moderators for the chat typically choose three or four questions based on recently published articles or other relevant topics, such as racial inequities in health care or how to apply military principles to hospital medicine leadership. “We reach out to authors and tell them they can explain their articles to interested readers through the chat. I can’t think of a single one who said no. They see the opportunity to highlight their work and engage with readers who want to ask them questions,” Dr. Wray said.
The moderators’ questions are posed to stimulate participation, but another goal is to use that hour for networking. “It’s a powerful tool to allow SHM members to engage with each other,” he said. “Sometimes the chat has the feeling of trying to drink water from a fire hose – with the messages flashing past so quickly. But the key is not to try to respond to everything but rather to follow those threads that particularly interest you. We encourage you to engage, but it’s totally fine if you just sit back and observe. One thing we have done to make it a little more formal is to offer CME credits for participants.”
The chat welcomes hospitalists and nonhospitalists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, academics, and nonacademics. “No matter how engaged you are with Twitter, if you have 10,000 followers or 10, we’ll amplify your voice,” he said. “We also have medical students participating and consider their perspectives valuable, too.”
Dr. Wray identified three main types of participants in the monthly chats. The first are regulars who come every month, rain or shine. Like the character Norm in the old television comedy “Cheers,” everybody knows their name. They become friends, sharing and reveling in each other’s accomplishments. “These are people who have multiple connections, personally and professionally, at a lot of different levels. I probably know a hundred or more people who I’ve primarily gotten to know online.”
A second and larger group might be drawn in because of an interest in a specific topic or article, but they’re also welcome to participate in the chat. And the third group may lurk in the background, following along but not commenting. The size of that third group is unknown, but metrics from SHM show a total of 796 participants posting 4,088 tweets during chats in 2020 (for an average of 132 participants and 681 tweets per chat). This adds up to a total of 34 million impressions across the platform for #JHMchat tweets for the year.