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Twitter use in psychiatry: Dr Vanessa Crawford

I’ve finally started to use microblogging platform Twitter – you can see a new link to the right of this page. Dr Vanessa Crawford is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Associate Dean for Psychiatry who works in NHS addiction services in City and Hackney and she has also recently become interested in using Twitter.  Here she talks to us about her experience.

Dr Crawford’s addiction psychiatry website is found at and her Twitter feed is

What got you interested in using Twitter in your work as an addictions psychiatrist? What was your initial intent, and how has your project evolved?

Interestingly my first use of Twitter left me trying to make sense of why people use Twitter and I left it alone for some time. Then I requested to take a sabbatical to bring together as much UK relevant addictions information into one website. Internet searches are heavily weighted towards pro-drug websites, not always a bad thing, but biased. Also information is often not entirely relevant to the United Kingdom; patterns of drug use and treatment services are largely country specific. The core of the website is a collection of research abstracts from 2005 onwards. Since I returned to work the library at my own hospital, the Homerton University Hospital has very kindly agreed to continue monthly updates of research papers so that I can keep updating the site.

This is when I re-discovered Twitter as a wonderful way to be fed pertinent news stories of your choice. Subsequently this has proved incredibly useful for keeping the information on my website up to date. I have embedded a feed of the news that I consider most relevant to the website so that visitors to my website can get the news without having to sign up to Twitter. My recent informal polls of medical student groups has shown me that Facebook remains the student IT communication tool of choice; also very few of my own colleagues use Twitter.

Twitter enables me to keep up to date each day with UK substance misuse field developments in a short space of time. I do this by being able to filter the key informants and look at their tweets, even if I choose to follow a lot more people. I also love the opportunity to be able to share information easily with a large number of others. However, it is also well known that a large number of tweets are never read.

From whom are you receiving tweets?  I was interested when you told me that you are receiving them from homeless people.

The areas of interest and therefore people I follow on Twitter are those relating to addictions, animal rights and street art. This then gains you ‘followers’ with similar interests. Addictions expand into a wide range of topics including domestic abuse, HIV, Hepatitis C, homelessness and bullying. I am interested to read the views and information shared by those with current and past addiction issues and also those who are or have been homeless.

What are the most interesting things that you have learnt and how do you think that Twitter facilitated this?

I have utilised Twitter on three occasions to request speakers. Firstly I was facilitating an evening for medical students on homelessness. This brought forward a key speaker for the evening and was very well received. The second and third were related to substance misuse and Hepatitis C teaching, both to medical students and highly experienced nurses. Teaching sessions always seem to be more positively received when I involve current and ex service users and these were no exception.

Twitter is a wonderful networking and social activism tool for all members of the community. Anyone who can access a computer with support, if required, can use Twitter. One wonderful activity I was involved in was spreading the word about a piece of Street Art loved by all that was to be destroyed. Sharing the message led to a change of decision and a meeting of interested folk to look at the future of such decisions.

Do you think that Twitter could be harnessed for psychiatrists more widely, or is it too time consuming? 

Twitter is in itself beguiling and addictive. My weekday tweeting is at 6am and 10pm, perfect for me gaining information but it does means that I cluster the tweets I re-send. My use of Twitter tends to be re-tweeting, rather than sending original information. However, with fine tuned interests and key names to follow 20 minutes per day would be enough to gain key information in your chosen area.

Can you recommend any Twitter feeds or blogs?

If I had to recommend one ‘person’ to follow on Twitter for those interested in addictions it would be ‘Lifeline Project’ as they capture the key UK relevant information as it hits the press.
Future Plans?

Keeping the website updated with new research from June 2010 is my current focus and ensuring I keep the daily Twitter feed updated; both sound very simple but I have realised even simple things take some discipline to fit into a working week!

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