Monday, March 23, 2009

Guide to Building Healthcare Apps for Twitter: Consider Twitter Communication Characteristics

As Twitter diffuses further into the mainstream (with even senators twittering to their hearts content), it is beginning to find its way into Healthcare. There are several users twittering about personal health and wellness information. Just recently there was a story of a surgeon twittering a live operation.

I have being using twitter since 07, mostly for personal reasons but have recently started exploring twitter as a medium to disseminate information about two healthcare related projects. This experience has provided insights about some key characteristics of communication enabled by Twitter which makes it an attractive tool for healthcare (Note: these are purely based on observations and not validated through scientific studies. And by know means are is this complete). It may be worthwhile to consider the following poitns while building apps for Healthcare.

1. Communication in twitter is time-sensitive (‘what’s happening now’), making it inherently suitable for communicating things as they happen.

2. It reduces the effort needed to put information out since tweets are short

3. It makes communication “conversation-like” and also social since a users updates are broadcast to all their "followers". The latter aspect is particularly important in propagating health information along social networks. As per social-cognitive theory, people learn by observing others, and hence a positive health promotion message has greater chance of uptake when there is an endorsement from someone in your peer network.

4. The network effect of communication also has a potential for message “amplification”; a hub in the information chain can disseminate information to thousands of their “followers” instantly.

5. Very importantly, twitter updates can be seen as “digital trails” of people’s daily activities and thoughts. It is common to see people tweet about things like "heading to the gym" or "i just had a burger". These trails can be "scanned" to provide tailored information resources.

6. Twitter makes it easy to access the communication medium through several different interfaces on the web and hand held devices.

7. Twitter provides the ability to keep updates entirely private or if needed enable one-on-one communication through a direct message channel. This is important from a healthcare perspective because privacy concerns are real and legitimate.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of communication characteristics enabled by Twitter but it can serve as a useful guide to envision uses of Twitter in Healthcare. Next, i will list some categories of such uses.

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