CommonSense Blog

Doctors and Social Oncology: The MDs most active in leading online cancer conversations

By Greg Matthews | Jun 02, 2013

One of the key findings of the Social Oncology Report was that cancer conversations have become increasingly fragmented, specific and sophisticated. The number of journal articles posted to PubMed has increased 349% since 1999 – and the number of cancer-related conversations has exploded in similar fashion. As those cancer-specific conversations continue to grow, we wanted to take a closer look at the physicians who are driving them. This is the second in a series of 4 posts on the subject, which will hone in on conversations about breast cancer, gynecological cancers, prostate cancer, skin cancer, and lung cancer. You can see the first, Doctors and Social Oncology: Trends in Physician Conversations, through the link above.

In yesterday’s post, we focused on the key topics that have driven physician conversations for 5 types of cancer over the past 18 months. Today, we’re going to focus on which doctors are contributing most actively to those conversations. By looking at who’s doing the talking, we can get a picture of who’s most passionate about each topic … and about the audiences they’re trying to reach.

While the number of physicians who have “activated” online is experiencing amazing growth, the overall numbers are still relatively small – so even though our database contains over 4 million tweets at this point, when we dig into specific topics it’s possible for a relatively small number of physicians to dominate the conversation. For that reason, when sample sizes are small, I like to see topics that feature relatively more authors contributing relatively fewer tweets. as you can see from Figure 1, below, 3 of our our 5 cancer types have relatively more authors per tweet – which generally tends to democratize the conversation.

Figure 1: Number of Tweets/Number of Unique Authors

There’s another way to think about this phenomenon that may also be helpful. As we often find when analyzing online conversations, there is an 80/20 rule in play – that is, 80% of the content is created by the top 20% of the authors. We’ve held fairly close to that pattern here, too.

Figure 2: The 80/20 Rule – % of Tweets created by most active 20% of authors

As we look more deeply at the most active participants in these conversations, we can see an interesting, though not wholly unexpected, set of patterns forming relative to the specialties they represent.


Figure 3: Specialty Breakdown of 20 Most Active Authors, Gynecological Cancers

It’s interesting to see the number of pediatricians who’ve entered into this conversation – but the reason has a great deal more to do with vaccination guidelines than on cancer itself … with the recent controversy over HPV vaccine, pediatricians have been weighing in heavily – almost exclusively in favor universal vaccination.

Figure 4: Specialty Breakdown of 20 Most Active Authors, Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the only cancer in which the top 20 authors included such a significant percentage of surgeons – which is unsurprising given the importance of reconstructive surgery as a frequent part of the process.


Figure 5: Specialty Breakdown of 20 Most Active Authors, Prostate Cancer

The urologists clearly own the conversation around prostate cancer, and over the past year have been significantly more energized than in the past due to the recent controversy around the validity of the PSA test.

Figure 6: Specialty Breakdown of 20 Most Active Authors, Skin Cancer

It’s no surprise to see dermatologists so strongly represented among the top 20 authors in skin cancer conversations. What’s more interesting is what isn’t represented here … that after we get out of the top 20, there are a much larger number of family physicians and pediatricians, who are really active in terms of sharing information about preventing skin cancer by using sunscreen, dressing appropriately, and staying out of the sun.


Figure 7: Specialty Breakdown of 20 Most Active Authors, Lung Cancer

Lung cancer conversations, in addition to being the lowest-volume of the 5 we’ve looked at in this study, also has the most interesting diversity of specialists weighing in. I like the fact that the folks who are most focused on diagnosing lung cancer, the radiologists and pathologists, are playing a significant role in this conversation … in my experience anecdotally, these docs who often operate “behind the scenes” are starting to take a more active role in the overall conversation. I think that’s a good thing both for the medical community and for patients – their expertise often doesn’t receive the credit it deserves, in this author’s opinion.

This post couldn’t really be complete without sharing who these passionate, active and engaged physicians are. For the sake of space, I’ve only included the top 5 in each category here; however, the top 20 for each cancer type are available through the links below. They’re all worth a follow!

Top 5 Most Active Physicians per Cancer Type:

Gynecological Cancers Breast Cancer Prostate Cancer
Frederik Bloem Julie Gralow John Clay McHugh
Kevin Ault Naoto Ueno Matt Cooperberg
Jana Sullinger Melanie Bone Luke Nordquist
Kevin Windom Tina Hieken Christopher Bayne
Melanie Bone Deanna Attai David Samadi
Skin Cancer Lung Cancer
Tina Hieken David Tom Cooke
Adam Mamelak Michael Thompson
Jeff Benabio Mark Pool
Travis Kidner Timothy Craig Allen
Glenn Kolansky Anil Potti

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking our analysis to the next level. While today our focus was on the doctors who were most active in initiating conversations for each of these 5 cancer types, tomorrow we’ll be honing in on the doctors who are most often mentioned in the context of these cancer types … the ones who are most often mentioned, replied to, and retweeted by other physicians. In other words, the doctors who are deemed by their peers to have the most important things to say. Which makes them, at least among online physicians, the most influential in their respective fields. Stay tuned!

All data represented in this post were collected from the thousands of validated US physicians in the MDigitalLife database between January, 2012 and May 2013.