How Twitter Can Revolutionize Public Health

by Catherine Bartlett, MPH student

As much as people may try to deny it, traditionally healthcare organizations are rarely early adopters of new technologies. The lack of electronic health systems, computerized methods of communication, filing, and overall resistance to change has left many health care organizations years behind other high tech industries.

Public health officials have used many different strategies to engage the general public, from billboards, radio PSAs, to the CDC’s unique “prepare for the zombie apocalypse” web campaign.  Although some may dismiss Twitter as frivolous or silly, it is an excellent platform to educate and communicate with a large group of people in a succinct way (140 characters to be exact).  Indeed, over the past five years, Twitter has become one of the most popular social media and sharing platforms in the world. According to the Twitter blog, more than 500 million tweets are sent a day from over 500 million users.[1]  Today, communicating directly to individuals is easier than ever before, and public health can only benefit from a more educated population.

Twitter can be used by public health organizations to:

  • Inform, educate, and empower individuals
  • Monitor health status and trends by searching tweets
  • Surveillance and information in disasters
  • Link people to health services (ex: @CoveredIllinois)

It is important that public health and emergency responders use platforms like Twitter to share official, meaningful information with people. Not only can health care organizations spread their message to a large amount of people, but they can engage people who have questions or are misinformed.

We recommend that:

1)    Public health agencies have an active, verified account
2)    Public health agencies market their Twitter presence on materials/websites
3)    Include social media in strategic planning
4)    Encourage conversations and interaction with the Twitter community

In addition, any individual interested in public health should create a Twitter account and follow like minded established organizations to receive up-to-date news. Tweets often have information that takes days or weeks to make it to traditional sources like journals, news outlets, or emailed news alerts.

If you are interested in public health news, I suggest following the following accounts: @CDCgov, @ClevelandClinic and your local public health department.

Read Dr. Rebecca Wurtz and my in-depth look at Twitter’s potential as a public health tool in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice by clicking here.

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About NPHR Blog (210 Articles)
The is the blog of the Northwestern Public Health Review journal. The blog and journal are both student run and contain research articles, opinions, interviews and other content pertaining to public health.

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