Balancing Social with Serious: One Doctor’s Prescription to Avoid Overload​

This post was originally published on the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Blog, July 10 2012.

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In a previous post, I made an argument as to why physicians should be involved in social media—especially on Twitter.  The purpose of this post is to describe how I use social media as a busy clinician and teacher of family medicine to keep up to date with clinical and policy information and also how I find the time to use social media. Yes, social media can fit into a busy schedule.

One of the most daunting challenges facing any newcomer to social media is the volume and scope of information that is available.  Once one starts following other social media accounts, the incoming “stream” of information can quickly become overwhelming. A number of social media participants have likened it to drinking from a fire hose.

In many cases, these streams of information are also not uniformly useful: friends’ updates may be personally important, but can make it harder to find relevant clinical or policy information.  It can also become quickly apparent that trying to keep up with every update on Twitter or Facebook is an exercise in futility and will take up the better part of your life.

Here are some tips that I have found useful:

  • Stop trying to read every update.  Early on, when I was new on Twitter, I would try to read every single update posted and visible in my timeline.  This took a ridiculous amount of time.  Instead, I have come to understand that I cannot read every update.  Instead, when I log into my accounts, I’ll glance at what updates are there and look back a bit at previous updates.  I trust that anything that is really important will be shared or commented upon more than once, and I have come to appreciate the randomness and serendipity associated with dipping my toe in the stream every now and then.
  • Organize your incoming information: this is one of the most valuable tricks that I have found.  Instead of trying to search my overall Twitter feed (I follow nearly 1,500) accounts, I have created lists that allow me to focus on certain themes.  I have a list for updates regarding health policy, clinical updates, family medicine-specific accounts, people in Richmond, etc.  Perhaps the most useful is the list I’ve titled “essentials”: this list includes accounts that have an especially high value for me whether it is because of the quality of material they share, the topics in which they are interested, etc.  When I have only a short window of time, I can skim the essentials list and get high quality information in short order.  Given that I use social media as myself and as administrator for a few organizational accounts, this list lets me find information I can share from various accounts.
  • Each social media user has different times of day when they might review their accounts: over breakfast, at lunch, etc.  However, you can make use of “interstitial time” (credit to Paul Tatum).  If you have a computer or mobile device available, you can glance at your stream during the time that you’re waiting for the nurses to room a patient, or if a patient no-shows.  These short windows of time can add up.
  • Look into using a third-party Twitter client, such as TweetDeck or HootSuite.   Twitter clients allow you to better organize the incoming information, and let you see multiple lists simultaneously.  If you are sharing information, Twitter clients also allow you to share on different platforms (Twitter, Facebook) and via different accounts.  This is a tremendous time-saver.  I am not beholden to any particular client: I use TweetDeck on my laptop, HootSuite on my mobile devices, as it seems to be a better fit for them.
  • Leverage your e-mail newsletters.  If you subscribe to any e-mail newsletters, you can use them to find resources that you can then share to your account’s followers.  For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics Smart Brief includes short capsules of useful information.  You can read the capsules, click to read the full article, and then share that directly to your social media accounts.  This prevents you from duplicating work, and allows others to see information you found to be relevant.  You can do the same with Physicians First Watch, and numerous other sources.
  • Finally, if you do not have much time to be on social media, look for relevant Tweetchats.  These live online conversations are identified by a “hashtag” (i.e. #hcsm stands for healthcare communications and social media ; #MedEd represents medical education , etc.—find a full listing here), scheduled at a pre-set time and day, and bring together a number of individuals and organizations with shared interests.  This can be an efficient way to make new connections, and to share information that can benefit the community of users.

In summary, do not be afraid that being on social media will inundate you with useless information and eat up any and all free time.  There are ways to compress and increase the efficiency of your social media use to ensure that you find what you want to find, share what you think is relevant, and make meaningful connections with other users.

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3 Responses to Balancing Social with Serious: One Doctor’s Prescription to Avoid Overload​

  1. Great post. Useful ideas on how to make a huge amount of information less daunting!

  2. shadowrun300 says:

    I, for one, haven’t fallen prey to the social media… well expect for a few bloggers that I like to follow. :) But I can see how some people can find it overwhelming to try to keep up with it all. Great post! :)

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