Physicians in the Social Oncology Landscape: Perspectives from Yousuf Zafar, MD

With the cost of healthcare on the rise, it’s no surprise that players from across the health ecosystem are coming together to solve some of our biggest problems in terms of ensuring access to the right care at a reasonable price. That’s part of the work that Yousuf Zafar, MD has been focused on for the last several years.

It’s should also be no surprise that as leading thinkers like Dr. Zafar grapple with this thorny problem, that one of the tools fueling his research and spreading the results of his findings lies in YZafarsocial media.

Dr. Zafar is a GI Oncologist at DukeHealth and a health services researcher with a focus in improving care delivery for patients with advanced cancer. He has participated in multiple studies focusing on access to care, cost of care, and comparative effectiveness of care delivery between health systems. His primary area of interest is in the cost of cancer care with a special focus on its patient impact. His current work in this arena is focused on patient preferences regarding cost-related communication and decision-making.

Dr. Zafar was a very early adopter of twitter, having been active on the platform since 2007. “I use other platforms personally, but for professional purposes, twitter is definitely the best tool for me,” he told me in a brief interview yesterday. He’s been identified as one of the “Featured Voices” at the ASCO annual meeting in Chicago (#ASCO16), a good choice – the number of Dr. Zafar’s physician followers on twitter puts him in the 97th percentile of all US oncologists. He has been actively involved in the online backchannel of #ASCO16 this far. Below is a map of the physician-to-physician conversations on the first day of ASCO (June 3) – as you can see, Dr. Zafar’s twitter handle (@yzafar) is quite central to the conversation. [NOTE: Click up the number of nodes on the chart to see the full conversation; it’s even more dramatic when you “zoom out.”

That active involvement has resulted in additional visibility for Dr. Zafar and his work – and bringing increasing attention to the issues around healthcare costs is really important to him. “One of the things that has been great to see at ASCO is that we’ve not only been using social media to help connect physicians to the latest research, but also to help patients relate their own stories and experiences to that research,” says Dr. Zafar. In fact, Dr. Zafar tends to learn as much from patients and their experiences as they do from him. “It’s really tough for a clinician who typically only has a few minutes with a patient to truly understand all of the issues associated with their broader experience of care.” Social media has helped to fill that gap.

In one of Dr. Zafar’s abstracts, he summarizes the situation in a very powerful way:

“Long-term solutions must focus on policy changes to reduce unsustainable drug prices and promote innovative insurance models. In the mean time, patients continue to struggle with high out-of-pocket costs. For more immediate solutions, we should look to the oncologist and patient. Oncologists should focus on the value of care delivered, encourage patient engagement on the topic of costs, and be better educated on financial resources available to patients. For their part, patients need improved cost-related health literacy so they are aware of potential costs and resources, and research should focus on how patients define high-value care. With a growing list of financial side effects induced by cancer treatment, the time has come to intervene on the “financial toxicity” of cancer care.”

– S. Yousuf Zafar, MD (JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2016) 108 (5): djv370
doi: 10.1093/jnci/djv370)

That shared responsibility for driving change is very consistent with what we’ve seen in the online health ecosystem – the convergence of health conversations among clinicians, patients, caregivers, policymakers, the media and the industry itself. Our thanks to Dr. Zafar for his great work & for taking the time to talk to us. Be sure to follow him on twitter (@yzafar) and in the media.

For more information about the MDigitalLife Online Health Ecosystem and to download the 2016 Social Oncology Project report, just click below.

TheSocialOncologyReport-Cover-HiRes

Click to Download the 2016 Social Oncology Project Report


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Greg Matthews
Greg Matthews

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