Taking Tips from Social Media to Communicate with Patients

Brevity is important.

If you have used Twitter, you know it limits each post to 140 characters. I’ve completed community and hospital rotations. Regardless of the healthcare setting, just like each Twitter post, brevity is important.

During a recent conversation with a patient over the phone, I found myself rambling on what could be summed up in several words. After I said what I needed to say, the patient told me to slow down and his English was not good. That was when I reduced what I had just said to short phrases or sentences to get my message across.

Even if the patient was fluent in English, putting myself in the patient’s shoes, the language of medicine is foreign. Many patients who do not work in a health care setting do not have working knowledge of the brand and generic equivalent and indication. When patients pick up their medications for the first time, this is all new information and it will take some time for the patient to process the information. After going over the medications with the patient, to ensure the patient get the takeaway message, I highlight just the major points for each medication in a few words.

What I learned from Twitter is saying enough in a limited number of characters. Saying too little can be an issue. For example, the pharmacy informs the physician's office that the insurance does not cover the patient’s medication. The doctor now needs to contact the pharmacy to find out what are the options. The wasted time could be prevented if the pharmacy prepared with a couple of options such as completing a prior authorization or switching to an alternative medication.

Whether I am talking to a patient or health care professional over the phone, in person, or in writing, I learned that I need to keep what I need to say short. Time is precious. I don’t want to waste another person’s time by saying what’s irrelevant or not understood. However, time is also wasted if the message is too short. It is important to provide enough information to resolve the situation.