By Lisa Fields

Editor’s Note: In observance of DC Social Media Week (#SMWWDC), Wing of Zock presents a series of posts on popular Twitter chats with relevance to readers in academic medicine.

The biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation.

—Farris Timimi, MD, Medical Director, Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media

What if there were a way to provide professional development and networking with health care leaders from all over the world for an hour each week, without having to pay a single penny?

What if there were a way medical students could gain insight and learn from hospital CEOs, medical school deans, and other leaders as they develop a collaborative online community?

What if there were a way to gain practical wisdom by listening to patient stories and insights about health care leaders who demonstrated leadership in the patient’s care?

While many people think Twitter is simply a way to share trivial information, it can be used effectively as a tool for learning. It facilitates the rapid sharing of current medical information, enabling users to enhance their professional development and learn from colleagues around the world.

A “tweet chat” is an event in which a group of people use Twitter synchronously and in real time to discuss a topic of shared interest, which is denoted by the hashtag (ex: #HCLDR) that appears in every tweet. Every tweet chat has its own participants, culture, and goals.

Tweet chats have proven to be very popular with the health care, patient advocacy, and social media communities. The Healthcare Hashtag Project, designed by the organization Symplur, reports that currently there are 86 health care-related tweet chats occurring on a regular basis.

Along with Colin Hung of Nightingale EMR, I helped to start the #HCLDR chat in October 2012. We have participated in similar chats over the past several years, both on general health care topics and specific ones such as breast cancer or end of life. Having done so, we noticed a gap: We couldn’t find a chat that focused on leadership within health care. We believe success will be achieved when a diverse community of health care leaders (in title or in spirit) gathers to learn, listen, and discover how they can enhance their professional lives and those of the people they manage.

The preparation for each #HCLDR tweet chat takes about six hours. We prepare for each chat the same way we would if we were facilitating a class: We determine a topic, choose an article that enhances the topic, write a blog post, and then carefully formulate three questions for discussion by the community during the one-hour session. Participants can view the topic and questions to prepare for the chat ahead of time.

Tweets are keyed to the questions by number. It is definitely a challenge to answer and discuss these questions in just 140 characters. Learning how to answer questions in this manner is a great exercise in leadership. How do you answer questions accurately when you have limited time? It also helps us learn to communicate clearly and briefly.

Each week, about 40 people participate in the chat. Our community includes a hospital CEO, a number of physicians from teaching hospitals, a former hospital administrator, the CEO of Aetna, an emerging technology librarian, a psychologist, information technology professionals, pharmacists, RNs, medical school students and faculty, docs in private practice, and patients. They hail from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The number of people our community can reach with #HCLDR tweets is amazing. On average, during one hour we send about out about 500 tweets. Reach is multiplied exponentially by the number of each participant’s Twitter followers. On January 22, 2013, our community made 2,574,074 total impressions during the chat. This number is determined by taking the number of tweets per participant and multiplying it with the participant’s number of followers.

When asked why a med school dean or hospital CEO should spend an hour of time each week to participate, this is how community members responded:

“That’s easy. They are the ones who are molding our future leaders.”

“When you get away from educational settings, life is different. [The chat] keeps them in touch with ‘real world’ issues.”

“Because deans and CEOs would do well to listen to the community and teach the students well.”

“You don’t know what’s really going on if you’re not part of the conversation.”

“Participating in a tweet chat like #HCLDR provides educators with firsthand knowledge of latest issues in health care from people in it.”

“Medical school deans and teaching hospital CEOs participate in this chat because it breaks down the walls between silos.”

#HCLDR occurs each Tuesday at 8:30 pm Eastern time. We hope you will join us.

—Lisa Fields is CEO of Lisa Fields and Associates in Greensboro, NC. She also a TEDMED Moderator. Colin Hung, vice president for Nightingale EMR, is based in Canada. Lisa and Colin are members of the Walking Gallery, an art advocacy initiative created by Regina Holliday; they have been honored to receive jackets painted by Regina that shows why they are passionate about patient advocacy.