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Twitter can keep you healthy

By Sarah Klein

I have to admit, I’ve been a little hesitant about Twitter. I wasn’t going to use it for those bizarre personal updates that no-one cares about - e.g. Sarah is brushing her teeth - but as a freelance writer, I figured it had networking potential. So I started tweeting about articles I had written and websites and stories that interested me and waited for the moment when I would get hooked.

I’m not quite there yet, but I’m starting to figure out this world of hash tags and @ signs. I may not completely understand what Twitter can do for me, but I’m starting to see its potential. And not just the potential for me to expand my networking contacts. I’m also starting to see what Twitter might be able to achieve as a mass communication tool.

Interestingly, the healthcare world has been thinking along the same lines. A recent study published in Telemedicine and e-Health found that Twitter is becoming an important means of communication between healthcare organizations and the general public. Doctors and hospitals are beginning to use Twitter as a real-time message delivery system. Considering how often messages are re-tweeted and how many people receive these tweets on phones and other mobile devices, important information like drug safety warnings or H1N1 alerts can reach a large group of recipients with the click of a mouse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the organizations starting to utilize Twitter’s power. The CDC has multiple accounts, including a page specifically for emergencies with over 800,000 followers, and also one for swine flu.

However, if Twitter is going to be used successfully in this way, we need to be sure that the sensitive information comes from reliable sources. In this respect Twitter has some work to do, as hackers have repeatedly attacked the site, taking it offline for prolonged periods.

As well as urgently beefing up its security, Twitter is also experimenting with a “Verified Account” system to confirm that pages from certain organizations—and even some celebrities—are the real deal. As Twitter becomes more of an official go-to resource, this is going to be an increasingly important tool!

You can follow Sarah Klein on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sarklei

You can follow The Online Mom at http://twitter.com/theonlinemom

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