American doctors are the latest leapers on the Twitter bandwagon, according to a US medical journal.

The latest issue of Telemedicine and e-Health found an increase in the use of Twitter for real-time, on-the-go communication of healthcare information and medical alerts.

Top uses for Twitter include sharing time-critical information such as disaster alerts and drug safety warnings, tracking disease outbreaks, or disseminating healthcare information.

Social healthcare networking

Phil Baumann, a former clinical nurse, is reported as having found 140(!) potential uses for Twitter in medicine, the top five of which are: disaster alerting and response; diabetes management (blood glucose tracking); drug safety alerts; biomedical device data capture and reporting; and shift-bidding for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

As of May this year, it is estimated that 255 hospitals in the United States using social networking tools and 167 that have Twitter accounts. Studies have reported that over half of patients between the age of 25 and 34 are influenced by social media when it comes to healthcare decisions, such as the over 150,000 people who subscribed to the US Centre for Disease Control's Twitter feed about the H1N1 epidemic.

As Twitter becomes more popular, some doctors are noting that privacy concerns are emerging. Twittering psychiatrist and neurologist Dr Michael Lara says, "I have a hard and fast rule about Twittering about patients. I don't Twitter any direct information about specific patients, to patients, or even about patients to people I know."