Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Word with Amalia Cochran, MD, MA, FACS, FCCM about Twitter

by Heather Logghe, M.D.

Dr. Amalia Cochran serves as Secretary for the Association of Women Surgeons and is a member of the American College of Surgeons Professional Association Political Action Committee Board of Directors. She chairs the Education Committee of the American Burn Association, is Vice Chair of the Undergraduate Medical Education Committee of the Society for Critical Care Medicine, and is a member of the Association of Academic Surgery Education Committee. She is also the Chair of the Multi-institutional Education Research Group of the Association for Surgical Education. 

Her research interests lie in the areas of education and clinical outcomes, and she has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards. Dr. Cochran is a burn surgeon at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

In addition to all of Dr. Cochran's accomplishments, she serves as a leading voice in health care social media. In today's post, Dr. Cochran discusses her growing use of Twitter.
Q: What has surprised you most about your Twitter experience?

A: I have been most surprised by the amount of material I am able to access quickly from links in Twitter. I have a strong interest in mentoring and professionalism in surgery, and Twitter has given me a community to engage in meaningful discussions with people at other institutions about those things.  It's good to both find like minds AND to be challenged in your ideas in a collegial manner.

Q: Does Twitter help you stay current? If so, how?

A: Yes, more than I expected.  Many surgical and medical journals have begun to tweet links to abstracts of key articles they have published, and they are sometimes things I would have otherwise missed.  Also, now that I have a fairly robust group of people I follow, I'm often impressed at the links that they will provide that lead me to something fascinating and new.

Q: Do you engage patients via Twitter, and have patients approached you?

A: So far, no to both, but I could see this happening.  I tend to be very cautious about giving medical advice to anyone who isn't my patient, so while I might not be willing to use it to give advice, I would happily use it to help connect patients to resources.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of Twitter for surgeons?

A: I am optimistic that we'll see growing engagement with Twitter in the surgical community, and that as we do, it will become a more robust clinical and educational resource for us.  The Twitter session at #ACSCC12 was certainly a great start, and I recently participated as part of a Twitter "team" for the Academic Surgical Congress (#ASC13) and the American Burn Association (#ABA13) meetings this past Spring.  I know that it was a great way to stay engaged-- and keep track of places that you couldn't be simultaneously-- during the Clinical Congress.

Q: What are your thoughts on Twitter for:

Medical Education: I see limitless potential here for asynchronous learning.  While I have been looking into ways to use Twitter for CME, I'm simultaneously brainstorming how I could effectively use it for medical student education. There may be an experiment coming up during our Transitions course for our 4th year medical students in April! I'm also appreciative of the networks that I have become part of by virtue of being active on Twitter.

Patient Education: This is an angle that I haven't looked at much within my own specialty-- yet-- but that I see the value of with the wonderful #bcsm chats hosted by Dr. Deanna Attai every week. She hosts a robust forum with a scheduled topic, and often includes topic-specific guests.  I think she's setting a great bar for the rest of us!

Advocacy: Having made it through an election cycle, and having witnessed the Komen/ Planned Parenthood debacle of February, 2012, it is clear to me that Twitter has amazing potential as an advocacy tool.  Also, my own experience tells me that most people don't want big bites of advocacy information given to them, so 140 characters may just be the perfect way to help educate people on key issues and teach them how to be involved.

Readers, what are your thoughts regarding Twitter and its use in the surgical community? Share your comments below.


  1. Hi, Amalia!

    how about using twitter with patients so that they can tell you about their surgical/ICU experiences? you only mentioned you giving advice (worrisome) and you connecting them to resources, and the questionnaire mentioned patient education; what about them educating physicians? not seeing that in the discussion...

  2. Anne, I'm interested in their experiences, but I also question if Twitter is the "right" venue for managing that sort of thing. If you look at things like the #bcsm chats, the patients definitely play a role in educating- I'm just not sure I'm ready to run something that ambitious for post-burn or post-injury patients.

  3. I agree with the advocacy piece! Interesting how succint we can be when limited to 140 characters - we choose our words more carefully!

  4. Thanks so much for the mention! When I first got on twitter 2 1/2 years ago, I had the same concerns about talking to patients. So I first started following and listening. And I was amazed (not in a good way) about how many patients were turning to each other to have some very basic questions answered - they were not getting answers from their physicians. There is no question that you can't give specific medical advice to someone online. However, we give general recommendations and guidance every day - colleagues, neighbors, family members - the list goes on. If you think about your online interactions as just an extension of what we all do regularly, and remember to draw the line at specific medical advice, I think you'll be fine. And the growth of the Breast Cancer Social Media Community (#BCSM) is proof that patients are hungry for physician interaction and guidance online.

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