There is a new digital conversation happening among online healthcare professionals (eHCPs), and it’s not taking place on Twitter. eHCPs are tooting on Mastodon, the Twitter-esque social media software that runs on a network of connected, self-hosted servers, that has been quietly building fans since it first launched in 2016.
Confused? Don’t be. This is a trend in eHCP behaviour following the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk on October 27, 2022.
“Welcome to #MedMastodon! I hope this #MedTwitter replacement won’t be necessary but just in case here we are. I think we can do a better job moderating content as a community of medical professionals” tooted Seattle-based intensivist and pulmonologist, Nick Mark, MD, just four days after Musks’ Twitter takeover.
On October 31, 2022, Dr Mark launched a Mastodon server dedicated to medical professionals. In the days that immediately followed, thousands of healthcare professionals created accounts on Dr Mark’s med-mastodon server, joining a wave of people flocking to Mastodon, amid uncertainties about Twitter’s future.
Dr Mark has been happily tweeting – on Twitter – since 2015, amassing more than 40,000 followers. He runs a website providing one-page education materials on ICU procedures, for free. So what made him decide to create a platform for medical professionals on Mastodon?
There is a tone of optimism in the response from his fellow professionals all around the world as they join the movement.
“…I will take a while to find my feet, but hoping this will provide an online location for us to continue to be a diverse medical community that discusses things respectfully”, tooted Prof. Charlotte Summers, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine & Interim Director of the Heart & Lung Research Institute at University of Cambridge in the UK. “I have learned so much from my online communities and don’t [want] to lose that!”
“Feel the same – keen not to lose the benefits of online community gained on twitter, especially the discussion with people otherwise unable to meet F2F”, replied Gabrielle Pollara, Associate Professor UCL.
To some of the HCPs who have joined Mastodon, it feels like a new start. “I loved #MedTwitter but it’s becoming clearer to me that I have ethical issues with continuing over there unless things do a 180”, tooted Registered Nurse, DeAnn Dunn.
While HCPs on Mastodon navigate the new platform, some have already asked questions about moderation of content and how to avoid misinformation in the brave new world they are creating. Dr Mark has a vision for the HCP community to self-moderate: “my hope is that we can do a better job moderating ourselves instead of relying on an algorithm or non-medical people at :twitter: to adjudicate. Eventually we could/should have a bunch of volunteers moderating.”
“…I love this idea. Looking forward to the journey, but I do think this is the future way forward.”, reflected Taylor Nichols, MD, an Emergency Medicine physician.
HCPs on Mastodon: a quick guide for pharma
- For now, Twitter remains the primary social channel for communication between eHCPs, with millions of active members. Mastodon is rapidly growing but with eHCP numbers in the thousands, is currently a much smaller source of data.
- Mastodon allows longer form posts – 500 characters vs Twitter’s 280. Reaction to pharma data is likely to be a little more nuanced.
- Toots can be edited – this may provide new opportunities for promptly-disseminated evidence to correct misconceptions.
- Many HCPs start by introducing themselves. This provides an opportunity to get to know your stakeholders, and what’s important to them.
- While the @med-mastodon community and the #Medmastodon hashtag are growing rapidly, eHCPs are gathering in other parts of Mastodon too such as groups focused on science or digital health, and – like on Twitter – many health specialty hashtags are already in use. Each group has its own unique emerging culture, which you should consider when planning future engagement.
- You can enjoy the custom medical emojis that are being created – and create your own. Your unbranded communication pack could include some disease-specific emojis.
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