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Are Academic Radiology Departments Missing Out?

Only 8 percent of academic radiology departments have Twitter accounts, and only 5 percent are active, with at least 1 tweet sent in a three month period, revealed the new study, “Enriched Audience Engagement Through Twitter: Should More Academic Radiology Departments Seize the Opportunity?” published on Journal of the American College of Radiology on May 13, 2015.

Twitter users Vinay Prabhu, MD, radiology resident and Andrew B. Rosenkrantz, MD, associate professor of radiology, both at  NYU Langone Medical Center, who conducted this study, observed anecdotally that Twitter might be an area of disconnect between radiologists and their departments, and so they went to investigate how academic radiology departments were using Twitter, if at all.

Twitter is the preeminent microblogging platform in the United States with more than 280 million active users who send messages that can contain up to 140 characters; these messages, which can include links to related articles or other online media, are instantly available to the diverse user population, including radiologists. Drs. Rosenkrantz’s and Prabhu’s study suggested that radiologists as a group are indeed very active on Twitter, using it as a tool to connect at annual conferences, such as RSNA, and to conduct “real-time journal-based ‘tweet chats.’” But while radiologists and the imaging-interested public are out there and listening on Twitter, Drs. Rosenkrantz and Prabhu found that not many institutions are speaking.

Using publicly available data from several institutions such as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Fellowship, Drs. Rosenkrantz and Prabhu compiled a list of 183 academic radiology departments in the United States and then sleuthed around the Internet for their associated Twitter accounts. Then, the two researchers, archived and reviewed the previous three months  of tweets from all the accounts (August 2014 through October 2014).  

Of the 183 academic radiology departments included in the study, only 15 had Twitter accounts, and only 10 had active accounts. Of the 10 active Twitter accounts, three excelled in promoting radiology-based conversation by tweeting at least once per day. These prolific Twitter users were University of California, San Francisco, Massachusetts General Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; each institution boasted a robust following, with 2,885; 1,602; 1,183 Twitter users subscribing to their Twitter feeds, respectively.

The study found that the majority of tweets currently posted by academic radiology departments are promotional in nature, highlighting awards, newly published researched, links lectures times and locations, and event registration. Some institutions used Twitter as a tool for community outreach by providing radiology-related medical advice and reminders to patients. Dr. Prabhu believes that radiology more than other fields of medicine is poised to use Twitter not only to connect, but to educate.

Because radiology is largely imaged based, a 140-character tweet can be used to generate educational content around radiology. “It is a unique thing we could be doing on Twitter,” said Dr. Prabhu. “Teaching residents, fellows, and even the public...what does it mean when you have a nodule in the chest x-ray?”

And with thousands of radiologists, image-interested and more than 250 million other users are on Twitter, why shouldn’t academic radiology departments be on Twitter? A Twitter account used by an institution does come with some challenges, as someone needs to be in charge of the account to ensure it is used appropriately and doesn’t fall into disuse.

The challenge lies, Dr. Prabhu said, in getting radiology departments’ “higher ups” to value the usefulness and possibility of connection that come with microblogging. His own department at NYU remains among the silent majority of academic radiology departments that does not own a Twitter account. He and Dr. Rosenkrantz hope that their paper will help more academic radiology departments find value in microblogging, use it to their advantage, and keep their accounts active by having it be part of someone’s job description to procure interesting, educational information to put on Twitter.

If your institution is not yet on Twitter, you can still get involved in the Twitter conversation around radiology. One place to start is by following the authors and publishers of this study on Twitter: Dr. Prabhu at @yaniv34,  Dr. Rosenkrantz at @arosenkrantzmd, and the Journal of the American College of Radiology at @JACRJournal. 

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