For the last several years, Paul Sufka, MD, has tweeted almost every day. His posts usually address medical topics that are helpful, or perhaps even unusual, and that other doctors may be interested in.
As a rheumatologist at HealthPartners, a consumer-governed healthcare organization in St. Paul, Minn., Dr. Sufka has attracted hundreds of followers throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world, such as Colombia and Ireland. His main objective for tweeting is to network with physicians worldwide about new medical approaches, research, or treatments.
“I got started on Twitter because I’m a person who is tech savvy and jumps into anything that’s new and technical,” he says, noting that he can be found on Twitter at @psufka. “I make comments about medicine and rheumatology, look for new [treatment] information, or talk about technology or fitness.”
He says Twitter offers a valuable tool for users. They can identify what topics people have been tweeting about in real time. He often searches the field of rheumatology, for example, so he can catch up on the latest news or research, then discusses the information online with other doctors.
However, his audience has not been limited to just physicians. Patients have also contacted him about rheumatology-related issues. He responds to generic questions, often delivering information that is applicable to many patients. But when questions in-volve a patient’s own condition, his response must be tailored.
If a patient asks a more specific question, Dr. Sufka says, “It would be best answered by a physician who can review their chart, see them, and do an a exam,” noting that physicians must observe patient privacy regulations established by The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). “I realize that may be frustrating. They’re probably reaching out on Twitter because the information they got from a local person they talked to hasn’t been satisfying.”
Mold Your Online Identity
But what is gratifying is the opportunity to control his online brand or medical reputation. He says doctors would be surprised if they knew how many patients searched for information about them on social media sites. On an average day, he says, between 10 and 20 people Google his name.
Their search often leads them to his blog (paulsufka.com). Although he started blogging approximately two years ago, covering medical-related topics, Dr. Sufka quickly realized that blogging helps him control the type of information that others may read about him online, such as material posted by physician rating services.