Social Media and Clinicians: Interview with Suneet Mittal, MD, FACC, FHRS

Interview by Jodie Elrod
Interview by Jodie Elrod

In this continuing article series, EP Lab Digest® is speaking with various EP clinicians who have recently joined Twitter. In this installment we’re speaking with Suneet Mittal, MD, FACC, FHRS, Director of Electrophysiology for the Valley Hospital Health System. He can be found on Twitter at @drsuneet.

When did you join Twitter? What were your reasons for joining?

I joined Twitter only within the last six months. I don’t think I initially had any solid reason to join Twitter other than recognizing that there were a lot of colleagues on the site. However, once I got involved with Twitter, it became clear to me that there were some real advantages to the forum, and I’ve continued to remain engaged with Twitter during this time frame. 

There are certain things that Twitter offers that I feel I do not get in other forums. For example, certain companies are very good about publishing a simultaneous Twitter feed with earnings reports. That is important because it gives you a feel for where you are in the industry in which you work. 

Another great thing about Twitter is the conference feeds. For example, attendees were tweeting during this year’s Heart Failure Congress 2014, so I felt like I was really at the meeting. Reading those tweets gave me the opportunity to understand what was occurring at that meeting, and kept me up to date with the literature for a meeting that I wasn’t able to attend. We also recently held our 22nd annual meeting here on key topics such as preventing stroke and atrial fibrillation (AF), and I was able to tweet live from the meeting and share some of the slides, which was great because I don’t think learning should occur in closed environments — it’s a great opportunity to take what you have worked on and share it with others who may not have been able to attend because of economics or distance or time. It was really gratifying to see some people as far away as Italy joining in and commenting on what was being taught. Being able to engage with your colleagues who have shared interests is a wonderful ability that Twitter gives you. 

Another benefit of Twitter is that it has been a great way for me to follow startup companies and connect with more people. For example, learning about digital health from Dr. Leslie Saxon allowed me to find out about WiredUK and the presence they have internationally in the digital world. In addition, I have a particular interest in remote monitoring, and in working with colleagues from Stanford who are also interested in this, I learned that Stanford was holding a “big data” meeting. By following and getting involved in what is happening on Twitter, I’m learning things I never would have known about or would have engaged in. 

Another very unique aspect of Twitter is that it allows you to connect with patients. I think it’s a wonderful way to really understand how patients and their family members may perceive a certain issue with respect to the industry you’re in. I really enjoy that, because that’s not a perspective that I normally get enough of. 

How much time would you say you spend on Twitter? How often do you contribute to Twitter? 

I certainly look at my Twitter feed on a daily basis, probably several times a day. I don’t necessarily contribute on a daily basis, but I get the sense that as you get more involved with it, and as the circle of people you’re following and who are following you increases, it will certainly become more over time. That is a balance that I will have to achieve at some point in terms of how much time is spent on the site. One can certainly spend a fair amount of time on Twitter since there is a lot of interesting stuff happening on the forum. 

Do you mainly utilize a mobile phone, laptop or tablet when on Twitter?

I mostly use my smartphone to do this. 

Are you also involved with other social media such as Facebook or a blog?

I have a personal Facebook account for staying in touch with my family who live all across the world. I primarily use Twitter for my professional work. 

I’m not a blogger and have no interest in blogging. However, that is actually what I like about Twitter — that within our community, people offer different resources. Drs. John Mandrola and Westby Fisher are bloggers who tend to bring up more groundbreaking issues that they feel are critical to our profession in terms of bureaucracy and regulation, and they are a great voice for that. Dr. Jay Schloss is another person I enjoy following; he writes more about leads and lead defects, and brings a lot to the discussion. 

Who serves as your social media “mentors”? How has working together with other social media pioneers allowed you to refine your online presence? 

Of all electrophysiologists, the three who have been the most active on social media are Dr. Mandrola, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Schloss. What has been unique for me is that I’ve had opportunities to engage with all three on Twitter, but my interests are very different from theirs in terms of the topics I’m interested in — yet there is a common ground that we’re all electrophysiologists who can relate to the issues that are at hand. 

What steps do you take to safeguard privacy and protect yourself legally as a physician on Twitter?

I’m not putting any information out on Twitter that is disclosing anything confidential — I’m just raising issues that affect EPs every day, issues that I believe deserve further investigation by physicians or industry. I’m certainly not giving any medical advice on Twitter. Anything I’m posting would not put me at any personal risk because they’re just opinions and thought-provoking pieces. 

What advice you can offer to other electrophysiologists who might be considering joining? 

I would love for more electrophysiologists to join Twitter. I find it an incredible paradox that as a field, we’re probably one of the most technologically driven fields in medicine, and yet it’s still remarkable to me how few electrophysiologists are seemingly engaged with Twitter. So I welcome the involvement of as many electrophysiologists as possible, because I think we have a real possibility to bring front and center the issues that are affecting our field. I hope that over time a lot more people will join, to raise awareness of areas of concern. 

I also want to say that at Heart Rhythm 2014, the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS) did a very good job of getting the ball going on Twitter. They started using the hashtag #hrs2014 early, and were putting out tweets every day. I also saw they were publishing the top five tweets of the day within the Heart Rhythm Daily, and I was pretty surprised to see my seemingly minor tweets make that list two days in a row! I think going forward we’re going to see much more of the use of Twitter during conferences.

What do those who are starting out on Twitter need to know? What considerations should a physician keep in mind when maintaining an online presence?

I think that the biggest issues are to know who to follow, and to be aware of who is following you on Twitter. Also, follow common sense in that whatever you put out is in the public domain, so you have to be able to defend it, you have to believe in it, and you have to understand that there are consequences for writing, so everything should be well thought out. Try to use Twitter to advance the field and raise awareness in a way that is respectful of the different views that may be out there, but still be able to share your position. 

What role is social media playing in medicine today? Why is it important for physicians to recognize this social trend that is emerging?

 

First and foremost, Twitter is a very powerful educational resource, so I think that it’s going to be a way that we get a tremendous amount of information. It’s also one way to share your concerns and views with a community that extends outside of your usual network. I think these two aspects are very important to remember for anyone who wants to be in this space, and certainly for anyone who wants to be a thought leader in this space.