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Former broadcast journalist and healthcare PR professional, back in school to delve more deeply into the "whys" behind what I used to do. Hoping the future brings the opportunity to teach and research healthcare communications issues.

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Tweaching patients how to manage diabetes

No, that isn’t a typo–it’s a new term, made up (apparently) by a blogger from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) who’s writing about the possibility of using Twitter to help diabetes patients manage their illness.

David Kerr is the managing editor of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, and on the BMJ blog he writes:

The question is whether Twitter (or an equivalent) could be used to support patient education? This would have the advantage that information can be shared at two levels and providing a two-way format – between the group being taught and the wider audience outside. The limitation of 140 characters would have the potential to reduce the possibility of introducing literacy and numeracy barriers as there is not enough space for big words and complex calculations.

The idea is that Twitter would help a group of diabetes patients share ideas, information, feelings and general insights about their struggles with diet, medication and management of the disease, all in the forced terseness that is a Tweet.  Text messaging is already being used to help people manage illnesses like this, as well as iPhone apps that help people diet, exercise and specifically deal with diabetes.

Would it work?  Again, Kerr says, “Increasingly healthcare professionals are using the genre to communicate with each other but perhaps the time has come to use Twitter for improving communication between clinicians and patients.”  He acknowledges that Twitter shouldn’t be a substitute for group health education programs, or doctor-to-patient counseling, but thinks it could be a helpful addition to the toolbox a diabetes patient needs to cope with a lifelong illness.

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