The Rheumatologist, The Student, and the ever so humble Hashtag

hashtagsMany doctors are still sceptical about whether or not using Twitter is a sensible use of their time. I have to confess that before I started using it I had regarded it as little more than a written form of gossiping. For some well established academics with narrow interests and a network of colleagues who shun social media it may indeed be an unhelpful distraction. For others it may seem frustrating that even if one day they happened across a nugget of insight it would disappear from their sight like catching a snowflake. Some early adopters have been put off by finding that even though they may know a hundred colleagues in their specialty, very few of them were using Twitter and even fewer were tweeting about the things that interest you most. But the humble Hashtag has changed all that. Hashtags on twitter are words beginning with the character # and are highlighted in blue. If you click on them you will see an up to date listing on that topic. For the enlightened (or optimistic) medic, hashtags are like Pubmed keywords on steroids. You aren’t limited to any official MESH list of headings and following topics of interest is simple enough for everyone to use. And it can allow us to really filter the stuff that we look at.

The most obvious impact of hashtags among Rheumatologists has been their use to mark out the tweets from conferences e.g. adding #Rheum2014 somewhere in a tweet about the BSR Rheumatology meeting in 2014. If everyone is using the ‘official’ hashtag for the conference, then you will see all the tweets from the conference. This will help you to gain an insight into the sessions you aren’t able to attend and you can also use it to meet up with and get to know other doctors attending the conference (through face to face ‘tweet-ups’). tweetup2At the end of the conference you can collect up the interesting tweets using tools such as ‘Storify‘. But you need to be aware that tweets do ‘fall over the waterfall’ after a week and a general search will not be able to retrieve earlier tweets. This doesn’t matter too much for conferences where the hashtag becomes redundant a day or two after the event, but it can be an issue for tweets that arrive at an inconvenient time. Although the stream of tweets are only catching a tiny amount of what goes on at a conference, experienced users can often summarise the key points from presentations in three or four tweets.

In Rheumatology, we use a number of hashtags to filter content for different audiences/groups. For instance #rheum is mostly used by patients and is a popular general tag. I use it when sharing general information that the public might be interested in. Ronan Kavanagh nominated #rheumedu for more specialist tweets particularly for information that a specialist health professional/trainee specialist might want to view/keep. Keeping one eye on #rheumedu will allow you to quickly find out who is tweeting the sort of material you are interested in and build up the list of people you want to follow.

Why bother with a twitter hashtag for medical students learning musculoskeletal medicine?

I recently suggested that we should use #mskstu for collecting information of use to medical students. I hope that we can help our students by keeping this hashtag to help them track down the very best freely available teaching tips and resources on musculoskeletal medicine. I suppose it could be argued that even if Twitter is useful for professionals, it might still be a bad idea to encourage medical students to start using it. Students do need to maintain a tight focus on what they are learning throughout the course and may have been set a lot of background reading by their university. However, over the past year or two I’ve noticed that a lot more students are using Twitter and reading blogs – and at least part of the time they are using these sources for their studies. There are some great resources out there for students & if they want to use their initiative to learn in this way then I think we should encourage them. Hashtags are also useful for arranging online twitter ‘chats’, particularly if you want to engage with patient groups. You can combine a couple of hashtags in the same tweet e.g. #mskstu and #anatomy – but don’t overuse them!

Any app or program that you use to follow Twitter will have an option to search for a particular hashtag, usually listing results in a separate column. So if you have a column for #mskstu it will collect tweets using this hashtag. If you prefer a more visual presentation then Flipboard can be configured to have a section devoted to your favourite hashtag.

Storing the best tweets for posterity is currently not a straightforward task. One way to store your own personal tweets is to use IFTTT to set up a ‘recipe’ that automatically collects all of your tweets into Evernote. I’m still looking for a tool that would help to build up a teaching resource for students based on the #mskstu – something like ScoopIt can do for web pages, for instance. Your suggestions and ideas would be very welcome.

Other hashtag related resources you may find useful:

Twubs is a site that lets Twitter users form groups around popular hashtags. Hashtags are roughly categorised in a form of unofficial directory. This site could also be used to organise online chats.

Tagdef has columns of information about trending hashtags including “Top today,” “Top this week” and “All time high.” Click on any of the hashtags to learn more information, such as the user-provided definition and related tags.

The final arbiter of the usefulness of the #mskstu hashtag will be the students themselves. So please help get the word out there and contribute your own special teaching tips to help make it worthwhile!



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