Twitter's fans say the microblogging service helped Iranian opposition parties organize after the country's disputed presidential elections in June. If Twitter's good for our political health, can it improve our physical health too?

A growing number of doctors, hospitals, and health agencies seem to think so. Physicians and hospitals increasingly use Twitter not only to keep up on the latest medical developments, but also to blast health news to patients, Telemedicine and e-Health notes.
Some 167 hospitals have Twitter feeds, the magazine reports. One early adopter is Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland. Launched in April, the hospital's Twitter feed had 175 followers in its first month and has been adding about five a day, using Twitter to circulate hospital news and direct patients to its website.

So far, it hasn't been dispensing health advice, though. And that's a good thing: Sending key clinical advice to a wide audience could be risky when often the appropriate treatment or therapy depends on a patient's genetics and conditions. And physicians who play fast and loose with the keyboard could violate all sorts of privacy regulations, if some identifiable tidbit about a patient ends up in a tweet. "Under no circumstances should patients be referred to by name or other identifiable means, even via direct messages," Michael Lara, a tweeting psychiatrist in Belmont, California, writes on his blog.

But Lara believes the service can improve patient care, giving doctors an easy way to share general medical information and to do curbside consults. It also facilitates live-blogging from medical conferences, letting physicians keep up on best practices even if they can't attend. Lara stops short of recommending Twitter for communicating directly with patients and their families, or for conveying urgent information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been active on Twitter for a while, having three separate feeds including an emergency feed designed to keep followers abreast of major public health events like the H1N1 flu outbreak and peanut-product recalls, Telemedicine and e-Health reports.

Indeed, the use of Twitter and services like it will be most effective in promoting general, not individual, health. Applications could include tweeting about diabetes management, smoking cessation, infant-care tips to new parents, and drug safety alerts from the Food and Drug Administration, nurse-blogger Phil Baumann suggests. Question is, will there also be tweets on how to treat repetitive stress injury from too much thumb action by Twitter junkies?

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