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Is Twitter a Reliable Source for Cancer Information from Physicians?

Data from a new report that shows compelling information on physicians who use Twitter, types of cancer, and ways to assess integrity.
PUBLISHED: JUNE 01, 2015
Some physicians share information about cancer on Twitter. But is it reliable? A recent analysis shows compelling insights about physician cancer tweets, according to The 2015 MDigitalLIfe's Social Oncology Project Report released on May 29, 2015, at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.
 
Physicians in the U.S. tweeted about cancer-related topics slightly over 138,000 times in 2014, which is an over 20 percent increase compared with 82,000 in 2013. More specific results show that physicians tweeting about cancer come from a small number of doctors. The top 1 percent of the tweets came from 5,500 physicians to contribute 40 percent of tweets about cancer. Furthermore, the top 10 percent created 77 percent of tweets. As a result, those "super users" had a significant impact in the evaluation and experience of tweets.
 
Since those 138,000 tweets work out to only about 378 postings per day in one year, a further assessment gives more insight toward using Twitter. Interestingly, doctors tweeted about cancer nearly 9,000 times over five days at the ASCO meeting last year. Cutting news, other scientific meetings, and awareness months increase the volume of tweets as well. In 2014 that included intersections of two mammoth trends on October 25, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Palliative Care in Oncology Meeting.  

Through assessing types of cancer, breast cancer was the most common as it represented more than 19 percent of tweets about cancer. Next is lung cancer at 9 percent and prostate cancer at 7 percent. In total, the findings evaluated several cancer types on Twitter regarding breast, lung, colon, pancreatic, prostate and skin cancer.
 
Breast cancer tweets totaled 26,500 from physicians last year. The Social Oncology Project Report explains that physicians focused on breast cancer seem to have "increasingly interconnected relationships between the medical community and other key stakeholders in the battle against cancer." In the process, the volume of dialogue comes from various factors, especially a strong network of patients and advocacy groups that have a significant impact on online conversations and much more.

More specifics show the weekly #BCSM tweetchat on Monday night is responsible for 8,300 tweets from doctors. Deanna Attai, MD, a surgeon, co-moderates the chat and is the most-active in breast cancer topics through 3,300 tweets in 2014. Attai (@DrAttai) is also the most-mentioned physician in breast cancer by patients followed by Mike Cowher, MD (@MikeCowher), Julia Gralow, MD (@jrgralow) and Matthew Katz, MD (@subatomicdoc). 

Exploring and evaluating cancer information is necessary for patient and doctors.

"We know there are huge knowledge gaps, and we feel it's our duty try to close that. The satisfaction comes from seeing patients have their questions answered, become empowered, and then get to the witness them mentoring and educating others. And the satisfaction from engagement with other physicians is seeing docs transition from being social media skeptics to the ‘ah-ha!' moment when they recognize the value," says Attai.  

From breast cancer at 19 percent, U.S.-based doctors tweeting about lung cancer create 12,200 tweets (about 9 percent). The report also explains "a majority of all tweets are focused in ways that directly connect with the lung cancer advocacy community." In lung cancer tweets, the most popular hashtag is #LCSM. In 2014, the top three most mentioned users were Janet Freeman-Daily (@JFreemanDaily), Faces of Lung Cancer (@LungCancerFaces), and H. Jack West, MD (@JackWestMD).

Regarding breast cancer and probably as it relates to many cancer types, the report shares how the influencers interact through language, how they engage and their impact. Ultimately, "that often translates to understanding how influential doctors are relative to each other, or to patients, or to the media."

Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD (@mtmdphd), of the Aurora Research Institute, is well-connected in the oncology social media community. He explained at the ASCO meeting that "communication is at the core of interacting with patients, and tools are needed to aid this communication."

For cancer patients, Twitter information from physicians about cancer offers benefits. Also in the process to acquire reliable cancer information, it is critical to collect multiple opinions from top-notch hospitals, oncologists and informed advocates to create a team toward quality care.

Do you use Twitter? What is your experience? Where else do you go for quality information? Share your thoughts in the CURE discussion group. I'll respond to any comments and answer any questions.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
Jeannine Walston is a brain tumor survivor since 1998, cancer coach, writer, consultant and speaker. Her extensive work includes for the U.S. Congress, cancer non-profits, NCI, FDA, NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hospitals, clinics, doctors, providers, other businesses, cancer patients and caregivers.
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