In past years, you couldn't have gotten Renee Berry to go on Twitter for anything. She found the microblogging site completely silly, and people's tweets self-absorbed.
"I didn't want to know where everyone got their burger for lunch."
Then Berry realized she could follow favorite NPR journalists on Twitter and hear their thoughts in a more informal way. Before long, social media was also playing an active role in her own work.
Berry, a resident of Mountain View, interned in college with a hospice and ended up becoming an advocate for better hospice and palliative (comfort-focused) care and more education about advance medical directives. On Twitter she found a community of people just as passionate about her topics, sharing resources and ideas.
Last year, Berry was in Washington, D.C., for an event put on by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. She spotted one of her heroes: Diane E. Meier, director of the national Center to Advance Palliative Care.
To Berry's surprise, Meier looked at her nametag, then stopped her and said, "Hey, you're my Twitter buddy."
Berry recalled: "I was so star-struck. ... I thought, 'I think I like Twitter!'"
Berry's community is an example of how people who work in health care are connecting not only with patients on social media, but with each other. On the Internet, she's gotten to know many people who share her interest in hospice and palliative care, including doctors, grief counselors and people who work for hospices, hospitals and nonprofits.
Today, Berry also works for a startup called KLX Media, founded by physician Christian Sinclair. KLX's clients are hospices and other health-care providers; the company helps them better use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media.
Berry and Sinclair also founded a weekly Twitter chat on hospice and palliative care.
"A recent topic was: 'How do you, as a palliative-care doctor, deal with doctors in other specialties who won't refer patients to you?'" Berry said. One chat participant was an oncologist, who agreed that doctors must be more open with patients about hospice and palliative care, Berry said. He was new to the chat, and she was pleased to find a new advocate. "We'll have a phone meeting soon."
Berry, who gets her own health care at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, has also forged a partnership with Erin Macartney, the foundation's public-affairs and social-media specialist. The two met on Twitter on a health-care and social-media chat, then realized they were both here on the Peninsula. So they met for coffee.
The two agreed that they were seeing a lot of talk about the importance of social media in health care but not so much locally. So they co-founded Health Care Social Media Silicon Valley. Their mission is to inspire conversations about using social media for "advocacy, public health and patient empowerment."
"We hope to start having quarterly meetings with a speaker and a topic," Macartney said.
But plenty of activities still happen outside of the old-fashioned in-person meeting.
"I tweet from hospice conferences to spread the word about what people are talking about. Sometimes I'm not even there," Berry said. "There was a conference in Washington, D.C. They live-streamed it on video, and I tweeted about it in my bathrobe."