Tweeting a Medical Meeting

Some of my #ADA09 tweets

The American Diabetes Association’s annual Scientific Sessions in New Orleans was the 5th medical meeting that I’ve “tweeted.” For those who don’t know about Twitter, here’s info from the Association of Health Care Journalists on what it is and how health journalists can use it:

My approach to “meeting tweeting” has evolved over the last few months, so I thought I’d share the set of practices I’ve come up with. I use an iPhone, but all of this can be done via laptop as well.

First, I obtain a hashtag for the meeting. Hashtags are words or terms with a “#” in front placed into “tweets,” thereby allowing people who are interested to follow all the news related to that event or subject. I start by asking the organization if there is already a hashtag for the meeting. If so, I use that. If not, I’ll make one up and inform the organization that I’ve done it. Usually they’re obvious: The ADA’s was #ADA09. Last month’s American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists meeting was #AACE09.

A few days before the meeting, I announce on Twitter that I will be tweeting from it, using the hashtag in this tweet. Amazing what happens–People interested in the subject start following me, and continue to do so throughout the meeting. During #ADA09, I accumulated about 100 new followers.

Before #ADA09, a public relations professional sent out a tweet asking who else was going and would be tweeting from it. He also organized a “tweetup” of fellow “tweeps” onsite one evening at a hotel. About 30 people attended, although not all were actually using Twitter. But I did have the opportunity to speak with a handful of people—including bloggers, journalists, PR folks, ADA staff, and others—who were also “tweeting” from the meeting. I followed them, and during the day I would occasionally re-tweet some of their tweets from sessions I wasn’t covering.

Sometimes a recurring theme will emerge from a meeting that merits its own hashtag. During #ADA09, I announced that I had come up with “#closeloop” to designate information related to insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring technology designed with the aim of linking the two to develop into a so-called “artificial pancreas.” I could have used that term, but “closeloop” is shorter. It’s also an imperative. After I sent out the tweet, another meeting “tweep” responded and said “I agree.” Then a third meeting attendee used “#closeloop” in a tweet. Thus, a hashtag was born!

I’ve been very careful not to break embargoes, even in the brevity of Twitter. I don’t know whether simply tweeting a 140-character title of an embargoed abstract would constitute a serious violation, but I don’t want to take any chances despite itchy fingers.

As for the tweets themselves, I’ve come up with a few basic practices. For a quick oral abstract presentation, I try to include the conclusion along with one or two numbers. If the presenter is well-known in the field, I’ll start with his or her last name, then a colon, i.e. “Dr. Nathan: Use HbA1c to diagnose #diabetes. #ADA09” If not, then I’ll simply say “Study: Drug x lowers A1c by y%. #ADA09.”

If I’m not sure I got the numbers right, I’ll simply tweet the title without numbers. But if I’m not entirely clear on the facts, I won’t tweet the talk at all. Again, playing it safe. Nobody will miss a tweet untweeted. I can always do it later once I’ve had the chance to check the info. A couple of times at #ADA09 the doc sat down near me so I was able to show him or her the tweet before I sent and ask if it’s accurate. But of course, that’s not always possible.

If the presentation is a longer symposium or plenary talk, I’ll pick out 2 or 3 quotable quotes to tweet during the talk, then send another tweet with the overall message at the end.

I also occasionally tweet colorful stuff going on in the hallway, exhibits, or press room, but I don’t name names in that context without asking permission.

If there’s an opportunity after I post a tweet, I’ll show it to the presenter. From what I’ve observed, most physicians  know what Twitter is but many of them have never actually seen it. So far, every single one has seemed to get a kick out of seeing their stuff “twitterized.”

Agree? Disagree? Got more to add? Please send comments!

–Miriam E. Tucker
On Twitter: @MiriamETucker



Filed under Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Tweeting a Medical Meeting

  1. David Sampson

    Good wrap up. I tried to sit next to one my my doc’s at ASCO, as well, to make sure my tweets were accurate. My most popular tweet though has little to do with science; the one in which I mentioned that Bert Vogelstein was wearing jeans at his plenary.

  2. Mitchel Zoler

    What happens during a tweetup?

    An embargo is an embargo, and if it’s broken it’s broken regardless of the means.

  3. Thanks, David! Did he really? Was it intentional or had the airline lost his luggage?

  4. Hi Mitch,

    People drink and chat!

    You’re probably right, although the abstracts are already available online.


  5. Pingback: Blogging, Microblogging, and Time | wellnessrounds

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