How Twitter can help connect the complex world of palliative care

The Annual Marie Curie Research Conference on 27 March, held jointly with the Royal Society of Medicine, will focus on the future of palliative care.

Laura Middleton-Green, Lecturer, University of Bradford

Laura Middleton-Green, Lecturer at the School of Nursing at the University of Bradford, will be speaking about the growing role of Twitter in health education and research.

What is your presentation about?

I’ll be talking about how we can use Twitter in education, research and practice to support people with terminal illnesses. I will present a range of views about Twitter (not just my own) to generate a discussion, so that we can think about future opportunities and challenges.

Why is this important?

The attitude of healthcare professionals in the UK toward Twitter has shifted dramatically over the last few years. At one time, using social media was considered to be risky and unprofessional and staff were actively discouraged from using it in relation to work. Academics and researchers viewed it as a distraction and an unreliable source of information. In recent years it has become much more accepted and encouraged within the health service, and increasingly used as a way to discuss care, share evidence, debate current issues, undertake research and education, and engage with a larger community of patients, carers and professionals.

What does this have to do with education and research?

Since leaving clinical practice as a Macmillan Nurse, and beginning life as an academic, I worried that I might become disconnected from the day-to-day reality experienced by patients, carers and professionals. As an academic it is imperative to remain connected with clinical practice. Using Twitter has become an important means of engaging with professionals across the world to ensure broad perspectives can be brought into the curriculum. I learn something new every day from my students about the challenges and joys of practice. Twitter allows me to take this learning further, to put it in context and to challenge it.

In research, Twitter can generate new questions, allow engagement with experts in the field and break down barriers between organisations, disciplines and within hierarchy. Some people are exploring the use of Twitter as a source of information in its own right on which to undertake research, for example by looking at how patients support one another informally when going through cancer treatments. As a PhD student, I also wanted to make sure that my research was relevant, necessary and appropriate.

Twitter is ultimately a form of connecting. The world of palliative care is complex. We are a global team of nurses, physicians, physiotherapists, chaplains, academics, researchers. We work within health services, charities such as Marie Curie and educational institutions. We care for people at home, in hospices and in hospital. As the remit of palliative care broadens, we cross boundaries with other disciplines. Patients and carers are becoming more likely to use Twitter and other social media to develop informal support networks, and even to communicate directly with their healthcare providers. Connection is essential if we are to coordinate these expanding worlds of palliative care practice and research.

How can I get involved?

If you’re attending the conference, please let me know how you have used Twitter in your professional life via the conference hashtag #futurepall. If you do not use Twitter but have an opinion you would like to voice, email me at

Visit the Marie Curie website for more information on the conference and to view the programme. Updates are available at #futurepall.

Further reading

Nursing and Twitter: creating an online community using hashtags
A guide to using Twitter
Nurses getting to grips with social media
Nursing and Midwifery Council Guidance: Social Network Sites