In a Research Letter in JAMA, Dr. Chretien et al describe the profile of physicians in the Twitter universe, specifically focusing on professionalism.

Inclusion criteria:

  • Self identified physician
  • At least 500 followers during May 1-31, 2010 (Whew, I only have 309 followers.)
  • English tweets
  • Posted a tweet within last 6 months
A total of 260 physicians were studied.
  • 6.2% were from Emergency Medicine.
  • 15% (most) were from Surgery and its subspecialties.
  • 76% were from the United States.

Three physicians independently coded the 20 most recent tweets from each account (total n= 5,156) for unprofessional content. There were 144 (3%) unprofessional tweets from 27 users:

  • 55 (1%) – possible conflict of interest, advocating for non-standard therapies
  • 38 (0.7%) – potentially violation of patient privacy
  • 33 (0.6%) – profanity
  • 14 (0.3%) – sexually explicit material
  • 4 (0.1%) – discriminatory statement
  • 25 of 27 (92%) of users were identifiable 

The authors conclude that, although rare, there should be more physician accountability and guidelines in the age of social media. This is even more true, since I just discovered that all tweets are archived by the Library of Congress!

Take a look at your most recent tweets. How would they have performed if you were included in this study?

Chretien KC, Azar J, Kind T. Physicians on Twitter. JAMA: The journal of the American Medical Association. 2011. 305(6), 566-8. PMID: 21304081.


Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at Bio:
Michelle Lin, MD