@BldCancerDoc, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

Navneet Majhail, MD
Director of the Blood & Marrow Transplant Program at Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute in Cleveland, Ohio

I am a recent convert to Twitter. For a while, I was the average Twitter Joe – following a few important people and being followed mainly by my colleagues at Cleveland Clinic (who I suspect chose to follow me more out of courtesy than anything smart I had to say).

Ahead of the ASH annual meeting last December, I had no premeditated plans to boost my tweeting habits at the meeting, but a few days ahead of the meeting, I saw Twitter light up with excitement. Before I knew it, I was sucked into this alternate reality.

So, while my esteemed colleagues were likely making important contributions to medicine, building collaborations, and advancing science, I immersed myself in the Twitter-verse.

My experience with Twitter at the ASH annual meeting changed my views on the value of the 140-characters-or-less social media platform, though. Here are some of the lessons I learned at the conference, and the takeaways that I’m continuing to use in my daily Twitter habits. One note: For the benefit of my non–Twitter-initiated colleagues (and to the chagrin of my Twitter colleagues), I have used significantly more than 140 characters for most comments.

  • It was a great way to follow the meeting because I could “virtually” attend several sessions simultaneously. My fellow hematology “Tweeps” and I were providing real-time details of other presentations, and since the tweets were short, I could get the gist of other presentations
    literally in a few seconds.
  • Following the Twitter timelines was a great way to filter out the riff raff. The ground-breaking and truly interesting research was posted on the top of the timelines, as several people would “retweet,” “quote,” or “favorite” those tweets.
  • There was real-time commentary and discussion, including comments by experts and stalwarts in the field (yes, people with white hair and bifocals can learn to use Twitter). At times, it was more robust and spirited than the questions that were being posed to speakers.
  • Many patients, patient advocates, and patient advocacy organizations were present and tweeting at the conference – I could get their perspective on advances in the field and understand what really mattered to them.
  • Twitter was a great way for people to “virtually” attend the meeting. Initially, I was oblivious to the fact that I was being  followed by patients at the meeting, but I was deeply touched when a patient thanked me for helping her be a part of the meeting. Patients also reached out for help in translating the scientific jargon and for my opinion on the data being presented.
  • Before joining Twitter, I did not know many of the clinicians and researchers I now call my “Tweeps,” but we bonded in the cloud. When we physically ran into each other at the meeting in December, we met as if we had known each other through several reincarnations.
  • Over the course of the meeting, we developed a close-knit ASH Twitter community, and I became a Twitterati! I gained close to 100 new followers, and I became aware that I was being followed by some very important people (my boss at Cleveland Clinic, Brian Bolwell, for one!).
  • It was a great (and free!) way to spread word about the great work and research being done by younger colleagues, trainees, and mentees. As a resident or a fellow, I would have been overjoyed if my mentor had shared my research on Twitter for the world to see.

Overall, becoming more acquainted with Twitter and its uses at the annual meeting was a more rewarding experience than I would have guessed, and I am certain there were other intangible benefits. My tweets also must have reassured my bosses that I was actually attending the meeting. Occasionally, Twitter even served as a fun distraction from the intense and data-packed sessions – especially for the people I corralled for my Twitter photos. My texting speed and accuracy have certainly improved, as well, which I hope will raise my “coolness” factor in my teenage daughter’s eyes.

Like any other new and exciting tool, Twitter does have some drawbacks. For one, I could no longer hide – my “followers” knew where I was. Then there are the health-related side effects: I have very likely contributed to premature neck and finger arthritis, and, after a few near misses, I learned that Twittering while walking is not safe. I also have to reluctantly admit that I have become a Twitter junkie; I might have to check into rehab soon.

On the plane trip home from San Francisco, I had already started to miss my ASH Tweeps – but am already flexing my phalanges for #ASH15.