Are you in the top 5 percent? Twitter tips for academic radiology departments

Very few radiology departments within academic medical institutions have dedicated Twitter accounts, and even fewer are active on the social networking site, according to results of a study presented May 17 at the 2015 American College of Radiology Annual Meeting.

"There has been more and more use of Twitter and other social networks by medical professionals, hospitals and other subspecialities within academic institutions," Vinay Prabhu, MD, lead author and radiology resident at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Health Imaging. "We wanted to better understand who was on [Twitter], how many were on, and the different ways that they were using it."

To do so, Prabhu and coauthor Andrew Rosenkrantz, MD, also of NYU Langone Medical Center, performed a comprehensive analysis of Twitter usage among all U.S. academic radiology departments over a three-month period. They coded and summarized their results according to account activity and content posted.

They found that only 8 percent (14 out of 183) of academic radiology departments nationwide had Twitter accounts, and that only 5 percent (9 out of 183) of those accounts were actively maintained. "There were a few [academic radiology departments] that were very active," said Prabhu. "They had a lot of followers, a lot of tweets, and it seemed like they were very effectively using Twitter." In fact, a vast majority of the total followers of academic radiology practices were credited to the top three active accounts: Univeristy of California San Francisco Medical Center (2,885), Massachusetts General Hospital (1,602), and Cincinnati Children's Hospital (1,183). 

An analysis of the content of all tweets from academic radiology departments revealed that radiology-related educational content was the most common type of post (138), with dissemination of departmental research (102), departmental/hospital promotional content (61), upcoming departmental lecture (59), other hospital-related news (55), and medical advice or information for patients (38) among other frequently shared content. "One of the benefits of Twitter shown by our study is that radiology departments can use it as a way to get the word out that their department is doing great things," Prabhu said. "It can be a fruitful endeavor."

As far as tips for a successful academic radiology Twitter account? "Activity is key," said Prabhu. "Engaging people is very important. In order for an academic radiology department to first employ [a Twitter account], they need to designate someone to post who has dedicated time to do that." 

But the researchers cautioned that aside from internal considerations such as interdepartmental cooperation and authorization for the creation of Twitter accounts, certain steps need to be taken to ensure that a "good" Twitter account stays that way. "We've seen examples of unprofessionalism," said Prabhu. "So make sure the account remains professional and has some level of accountability for whoever posts."

Overall, their results suggest academic radiology departments could benefit from an increased presence on the popular social media platform. "Twitter provides [academic radiology departments] the opportunity to engage their own staff, the radiology community, the department's hospital, and patients, through a broad array of content, including links to various media...more departments are encouraged to take advantage of this emerging communication tool," wrote Prabhu and Rosenkrantz.