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Feeling like it's hard to stay on top of new information in our practice? Feel like you're the only one working in your area? Want to be more involved, but don't know where to start? Social media can help. 

In the January/February issue of Physiotherapy Practice, we profiled five social media leaders from around the world. We are pleased to bring you the extended interviews that helped develop the article for the magazine. You can access the magazine online at:

Meet Tim Watson, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. You can find him on Twitter @ElectroTim and through his website, Electrotherapy on the Web.

Tell us about how you became active in social media?

I was involved in setting up the website in the early 1990’s – so I guess I was an early ‘uptaker’ for web based activity. Initially, this was a convenient way of helping my own students (I was then at Brunel University in London) to get access to material to support their studies at zero cost. I already had the information and the web looked like a good way of getting it disseminated.

Clearly, this was not what we would now call ‘social media’ but it was my start point. The website blossomed (in terms of people using it) such that it now has thousands of users a week.

In terms of what we would now call social media, I have been using Twitter as my primary platform for the last few years. I made a choice – there is not enough time in the day to keep all of them (Facebook, YouTube, etc) updated. I went for Twitter as it gave me a means to send messages to a number of people who were interested in the topic area in one hit, at no cost – apart from some time and effort.


Tell us about the moment when you realised social media was a useful knowledge translation tool.

In 2011 I realised that Twitter was a potentially useful tool to help in the dissemination of knowledge in a specialist field and get that information to people who wanted to know more. This might not be what Twitter was intended to do, but I took it to be an opportunity and went for it to see how well it might work out.

Despite current ‘wisdom’ in the physiotherapy world, there is in fact a lot of evidence – in the published domain – about electro physical modalities. I spend a lot of time, every week, collecting and organising the evidence as it comes out. I have a database with about 250,000 references. Some is supportive and some demonstrates zero benefit, but it is evidence. Increasing awareness of this material is something that I am interested in – passionately – and thus, rather than holding onto the evidence (which actually limits it value), sharing it, in my opinion, has significant worth.


What do you consider before you decide to share, repost, post, say, etc.?

My aim on the Twitter feed is to post 2 published pieces of research as day. They are always from within the last year (nothing older) and most commonly, from within the last couple of months – frequently, in the week that the paper comes out.

One of the posts relates to a review of some kind and the other is an original piece of research – whether that is an RCT, a case series or retrospective. I know that there is a lot of talk about the evidence hierarchy – and I do appreciate that not all evidence is of equal ‘worth’, BUT only reporting RCT’s can limit ones appreciation of a topic area. If the intention is to increase awareness of what is out there, keeping it broad has value in my opinion.

One way or another, I reckon the Tweets in a typical month are read or accessed by nearly 45 or 50,000 ‘readers’.


What advice would you give health professionals who are interested in using social media for knowledge translation?

I would encourage people to have a ‘dabble.' In the first instance, I think it is important to get a ‘feel’ for the platform being used. If you are not careful, it is easy to make a faux pas – simply by not really appreciating that particular platform. Most other users are pretty forgiving, especially in the professional communities, but it is not nice when you get ‘attacked’ for something that you posted which is taken the wrong way or had unintended meaning – we have all been there and it is a tad uncomfortable!

Reading other peoples posts or submissions or questions - even if only for a couple of minutes - will give you a great idea about the flavour of the platform. Then you are much less likely to blunder.

Patients, students, your professional colleagues, researchers and everybody in between accesses this kind of material. It is a very broad audience, and play it the right way, it can generate a lot of positive responses and interaction – that is the great thing about the scope of social media in the current age. I just wish there was such a thing in the 1970’s when I was a student, I would have loved it!


Where can people follow you on Social Media and/or what are the top 5 “social media accounts” to follow? 

I'm on Twitter @ElectroTim . This is primarily a feed relating to electro physical agents and modalities. It is all human / clinical research. There are some tissue repair and healing papers as my research interests span the electro physical and the tissue repair domains.

I have a new venture just about to launch, which is an open forum relating to the use of electro physical modalities. This idea is that it will provide a platform for discussion and for people to ask questions of the electrophysical community. I get 30 or 40 e mail queries every day and simply can’t keep up with answeing them all straight away. The idea is that asking a forum with a lot of users (and a lot of experts) might get you an answer faster and include more than just one opinion. Its development and initial setup has been generously funded by the Private Physiotherapy Education Foundation in the UK.


Who are you trying to reach through social media?

I am primarily aiming at clinicians, students in healthcare subject areas, researchers, manufacturers. 

I do not restrict access in any way to just physiotherapists. I am a physio by background and training, but we are not the only professional group who use electro physical modalities. Osteopaths, chiropractors, sports therapists, animal therapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists . . . .  and an ever increasing list of professional groups are taking up one or more aspects of these treatments. I therefore have an open approach and am happy to share information, research and opinion with those who are interested. I know this ruffles feathers (in some countries more than others) but that is my position and I make no pretence otherwise.


How do you avoid the pitfalls of social media?

I try as best I can to report the facts and evidence and when I am expressing an opinion (as opposed to reporting fact) then I try and make it clear that it is just my opinion. I get hate mail, I get spammed and I get accused of all kind of things, but most of the time, I can let it roll on by. Sometimes I wake in the night and wonder why I need to absorb ‘e-hate’ when I was only trying to be helpful, but most of the time it is just fine.

The pitfalls are most commonly forgetting that everyone, but everyone (from your partner, your professional colleagues, your patients and your employers) can probably see what you are putting out there. Bash away on the keyboard as much as you like – but check it through before you hit the send button. Simple advice, but sometimes difficult when you are being professionally insulted or you are in a ‘rage’ or you have a really strong view on a topic.


So if you want to give social media a try for gathering and sharing information for your practice, you can start with following the CPA Division that you are a  member of (e.g. Pain Science @painphysioscan). Once you figure out who the leaders in your area of practice are, check out who they follow. You will slowly build up your network and start being exposed to many learning opportunities.

If you love this, check out the Physiotherapy Practice social media issue here.