Blog

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.

One of the key findings of the MDigitalLife Social Oncology Report 2013 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 first in a series of 4 posts on the subject, which will hone in on doctors’ conversations about breast cancer, gynecological cancers, prostate cancer, skin cancer, and lung cancer.

It’s been interesting to study the similarities and differences between physicians and the general population in relation these specific cancer-related topics. In the MDigitalLife Social Oncology Report 2013, my colleague Brian Reid reported on the events and topics that caused overall conversations to spike (see page 7 of the report). In general, the biggest drivers of public conversation on specific cancer related topics were:

  • [Cancer type] awareness months; and
  • News about celebrities experiencing cancer (either themselves or with a loved one)

We see those patterns continuing to some degree with physicians as well – For example, Breast Cancer Awareness Month was the most prevalent topic among doctors in their October spike (see Figure 1, below). Ian McKellen’s diagnosis of prostate cancer was in the top 4 subjects driving a December 2012 boost in conversations about prostate cancer (see Figure 2, below). However, while public conversation about prostate cancer saw a significant jump in November 2012 as a result of the “Movember” awareness campaign, physician conversations actually dropped in November after a huge spike in October (See Figure 2, below).

Let’s take a brief look at each of the 5 cancer types to analyze what drove the largest increases in physician conversations on the subject.

1. Breast Cancer

Figure 1: Trends in Physician Conversations about Breast Cancer

As mentioned above, the largest spike in physician conversations about breast cancer essentially mirrored that of the public – centering around Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2012. It’s interesting to note, however, that we also see the beginning of an elevation in the “conversation floor” for breast cancer conversations – meaning that the average conversation level after the October spike is nearly twice as high as the average conversation level before the spike. This is a relatively common occurrence in online conversations … the events that drive spikes tend to penetrate deeply enough into the consciousness of the population that overall conversation levels increase.

2. Prostate Cancer

Figure 2: Trends in Physician Conversations about Prostate Cancer

The first major spike in physician conversations about prostate cancer happened in May of 2012. The spike was tied directly to the recommendation presented by the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF)on the validity of the PSA test in reducing mortality among prostate cancer patients. The second, much larger spike in October 2012 was the result of a Study at The Institute of Cancer Research in London developing blood test reading like genetic barcode that can identify the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and later in the month a discussion around a new and very expensive prostate cancer therapy.

3. Skin Cancer

Figure 3: Trends in Physician Conversations about Skin Cancer

May is skin cancer awareness month and brought lots of discussion on prevention and detection. In particular, there was an event called #MelanomaMonday (May 7th) that generated a lot of buzz. Created as an awareness-raising device by the America Academy of Dermatology, it’s a great example of how physicians can unite behind a common cause to drive greater awareness about critical health issues.

4. Gynecological Cancers

Figure 4: Trends in Physician Conversations about Gynecological Cancers

Gynecological cancers are far from being the most-discussed cancer type among physicians – but they have seen the largest jump in conversations (and as we’ll see in upcoming posts, the widest range in physician specialties leading the conversation). That spike in January 2013 was driven primarily by the fact that January is cervical cancer awareness month. Additionally, though, there was a large amount of conversation in January that could be attributed to a single physician who has a very negative view about HPV vaccines – and tweeted about it more than 4 times per day in January (accounting for 45% of the total volume of tweets for the month).

5. Lung Cancer

Figure 5: Trends in Physician Conversations about Lung Cancer

Online conversations about lung cancer are fascinating to watch – due largely to the massive discrepancy between the large number of people who die each year from it, and the low levels of corresponding conversation. This trend, which my colleague Brian Reid mentioned in the MDigitalLife Social Oncology Report 2013(see page 5 of the report), was echoed by physicians … in spite of what appears to be a significant pattern of peaks and troughs in the diagram above, the overall conversation volume about lung cancer is so low that they’re relatively insignificant. There are two spikes in lung cancer conversations that are particularly worth mentioning. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and the University of California Davis Comprehensive Care Center hosted a well-attended tweet chat  in recognition. Additionally, a new article predicting “Female Lung Cancer Rates to Skyrocket” drew a lot of attention. In February 2013, there was a lot of activity during the month about a study done on selection criteria for lung cancer screenings.

.

6. All Cancer Conversations

Figure 6: Trends in Physician Conversations about 5 Common Cancer Types

When viewed together, these conversation patterns tell some interesting stories:

  • While breast cancer does drive the largest volume of physician conversations, the difference is not nearly so severe as it is among the general populace – and in fact is now rivaled by prostate cancer and skin cancer.
  • The fastest-growing conversations are around gynecological cancers, and focus primarily on the issue of HPV vaccine. It will be interesting to monitor whether the awareness levels afforded these cancers (especially cervical cancer) during this period are sustainable, or whether they’ll fall to 2012 levels.
  • Skin cancer conversations are highly seasonal, and reflect the fact that physicians have done an excellent job of focusing on the “high-risk, low-effort” prevention topics that make up so many of our ailments (e.g., wear sunscreen, give your kids swimming lessons, make sure to vaccinate your kids, etc.)
  • Lung cancer, despite continuing to represent an enormous health risk, is lagging in terms of effective advocacy – due, we believe, to the current political incorrectness of its common association with smoking.
As cancer conversations become increasingly diverse, so do the doctors who champion them. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll examine the physicians who are most active in discussing each of these five forms of cancer. 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. 

 

Click for full report

2012 was one heck of a year for new treatments against various different forms of leukemia. In the span of 5 months, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved four novel therapies. Drug approvals always come with a spike of media attention, but we at W2O Group have been curious as to how that flood of interest compares with other events throughout the year, not only in news, but in all of the other conversations we have online about cancer.

This is of special interest this week, as thousands of oncologists, patients, advocates and journalists begin arriving in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

So we decided to look into how we’re talking about cancer, both at the broadest level and in the context of more specific cancers and more specific communities. We’ve collected the results of this analysis in a new report, the Social Oncology Project, that seeks to draw conclusions from hundreds of thousands of tweets, news stories, blog posts and forum entries. We looked both at overall mentions, as well as how doctors talk about cancer, relying on our MDigitalLife database of verified doctors active online.

Our analyses found both encouraging news about the nature of the online dialogue about cancer, as well as some more concerning findings. For starters, there’s no question that we’re talking about cancer. A lot. In the last year, more than 16 million articles, posts, tweets and entries about cancer found their way online in the United States. That’s a lot of talk, and a testament to the impact of awareness raising campaigns.

In fact, there is a direct correlation between awareness campaigns and online conversations. Overall mentions of cancer rise in October due to a surge in posting around Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But similar, if smaller, increases can be seen in almost every cancer type. Lung conversations are highest in November (Lung Cancer Awareness Month). Mentions of colon cancer rise during March (Colon Cancer Awareness Month). Prostate volumes are up in September.

Not surprisingly, the most-talked-about type of cancer is also the one with the biggest awareness push: breast cancer. More people are talking about breast cancer than the other four of the five largest cancer killers combined. (Lung cancer, which kills more than four times as many people as breast cancer, has only 20 percent of the dialogue of breast cancer. Colon cancer, the number 2 killer, has only 10 percent of the conversation compared to breast cancer.)

The larger question of what is driving those conversations, however, paints a muddier picture, one that may be best illustrated by looking back at leukemia conversations. The unprecedented string of new drug approvals in the second half of last year didn’t create so much as a blip in the overall number of online conversations about blood cancers. But football did: when Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano announced that he had been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, mentions shot up tenfold. The next big spike in conversations was also football-related: when the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo’s fake girlfriend – who T’eo had said died of leukemia – broke.

Click to enlarge

That’s not to say that celebrities and awareness months are the only drivers of attention, nor that the attention in one medium (say, Twitter) is reflective of discussions in others (say, online news). But, overall, we remain a social bunch online: raw data and “new chemical entities” from the FDA might not move us to share and reflect online, but human stories, be they in the news or those we hear from our friends and colleagues during awareness events, have a way of engaging us.

Pretty much since the dawn of public relations, we’ve operated on the same principle as invading aliens. We land on a particular subject, look around and say “take me to your leader.” Sometimes that is a leading advocate or a journalist with extraordinary reach or some other investor, tastemaker or celebrity. For every tribe, the reasoning goes, you can find a chief.

But the power of this approach is fading as the Internet gives rise to a new kind of group: the loosely organized, leaderless organization. The last year has been full of examples of these collectives: the vigilante hackers of Anonymous, the (more or less) spontaneous Occupy movements. But the most wonderful example is what’s happening in health care. Patients and physicians and other stakeholders are leveraging the democratic nature of the web to build true communities.

Last week, USA Today profiled a group that is making the concept a reality. A small group of women, including Jody Schoger, Alicia Staley and Dr. Deanna Attai, has organized a weekly tweetchat on breast cancer social media (known by its hashtag: #BCSM). It’s less a support group than an extended family, not just sharing advice and experiences, but the joys and sadness of everyday life. There may be no truer picture of the experience of women living with breast cancer or breast cancer survivors than what goes down each Monday night on Twitter.

And it’s not just breast cancer. The most powerful force in diabetes today may not be the well-funded organizations that have long rallied support for the disease: it’s a loose, collection of bloggers that’s known informally as the “Diabetes Online Community” (DOC, for short). No one created the DOC. No one is in charge. There’s no organization. And yet the informal network has immense power.  Ditto for doctors, too. My colleague Greg Matthews, in his rigorous evaluation of 1,400 Twitter-centric docs, found that connections between physicians is also happening outside of traditional communications channels.

But BCSM, DOC  and groups like them turn the “relations” part of “public relations” on its head. If you want to tap into that hive of information, you can’t just go to the group’s founders (though Jody, Alicia and Deanna are remarkable resources in their own right). You have to become a participant yourself. You have to watch the conversation unfold, soak in the different perspectives and understand how the fabric of the community is knit together.

Joining a community doesn’t always come naturally in communications. It requires a certain degree of vulnerability, a whole lot of transparency and the knowledge that really understanding a group requires a tremendous investment of time. That’s a high barrier to entry.

It’s a barrier that communicators will have to clear if they want to understand this new phenomenon of self-organized groups. Increasingly, top-down, bureaucracy-driven organizations are in peril, removed from grassroots supporters who no longer need a large organization to have an impact. To be sure, collectives of Twitter users won’t eliminate the need for large, groups working toward well-defined goals. But — increasingly — they’ll serve as the voice of the people. Will you be listening?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a cancer patient in an examination room. Your doctor enters and tells you that there are two treatment options. One assures you of 18 additional months of survival, but no more. The other will either extend your life by 3 years, or not at all. Which option do you choose?

In most areas of life, people opt for the sure bet. Approach someone on the street and tell them you’ll hand them $150 — or let them flip a coin, double-or-nothing — and they’ll take the $150. But when it comes to cancer care, a survey of cancer patients found that 77 percent would take the 50/50 gamble on getting three extra years of survival, according to research in the latest edition of the journal Health Affairs.

While the paper delves into detail on why, exactly, we seem more likely to take what the authors call a “hopeful gamble” (patients with short life expectancy may feel that they have less to lose), the results are important to health communicators for another reason: it gives insight into the way that patients themselves want to choose treatments, and how patients view statistical descriptions of a drug’s effectiveness.

In the hypothetical presented in the Health Affairs paper, both of the fictional drugs had exactly the same median overall survival: 18 months. From a strictly statistical point of view (and from the point of view of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), the two medications are identical, despite the fact that deaths are clustered in two vastly different ways. But just because they are indistinguishable to the statistician does mean that a patient would see no difference. Indeed, patients in the study said that not only did they prefer taking the hopeful gamble, a quarter of the breast cancer patients surveyed said they’d be willing to pay an extra $90,000 for the opportunity to flip the coin. The value of the gamble far outstrips that of the safe bet, for the patient anyway.

It’s a reminder that though it’s important to talk about median survival, which remains the gold standard for regulators, we do patients a service when communication about a drug’s efficacy includes other metrics, such as the percentage of patients alive after a given number of years, that might help quantify how much hope is built into those survival statistics. With that need for additional information comes addition responsibilities — patients examining a hopeful gamble need to understand the consequences when the gamble doesn’t pay off — but it’s clear from the Health Affairs paper that patients value that information. Our job, as communicators, is to make sure they get it.

Friending PharmaA week from Sunday, a panel of some of the leading thinkers on the topic of patient-industry relationships in health care will sit down in Austin, Texas for the “Friending Pharma” panel at the SXSW Interactive conference. It’s a vital topic: communication between health care companies and active, online patients is growing, but those relationships aren’t always straightforward: there may be perceived power imbalances, privacy concerns and legitimate questions about motivations on both sides.

The goal of the session is to reach common ground on how patients and companies can build mutually beneficial relationships. But it’s not a dialogue that should be happening only at SXSW, or only among the panelists.

So this page will serve as a repository for best practices, both leading up to the SXSW panel and beyond. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section, and we’ll update the page regularly to reflect some of the online- and in-person discussions that will be taking place, along with the names and URLs of those who contribute. What follows is just a starting point. We look forward to your feedback.

Industry Rights and Responsibilities When Dealing with Patients

  • Transparency: Companies — and their representatives — should disclose on whose behalf they work, and what their goals are.
  • Education: A company should not approach a patient without making a good-faith effort read to understand their positions
  • Engagement: A company should refrain from asking for action from a patient without first building a relationship with the individual
  • Commitment: Companies that wish to interact with individual members of an online community should first make an effort to participate, in a non-commercial way, in that forum.

Patient Rights and Responsibilities When Dealing with Industry

  • Transparency: Patients should disclose industry relationships.
  • Privacy: Patients have the right to choose how and when their information is shared or used.
  • Honesty: When companies cross the line, patients should be able to say so, directly.

Please provide your perspective below. We look forward to seeing you in Austin!

Working day in and day out in the healthcare communications field, I often see the agony and ecstasy of drug development. A common scenario: promising results in Phase 2– only for the compound to fail in later stage trials.  Alternatively, I’ve seen many breakthrough drugs come to market as “game changers,” “paradigm-shifters” or even “the magic bullet” (i.e., Avandia, Celebrex and Meridia), only to later get pulled from the market due to safety issues. Within this backdrop, sometimes it’s the older, less sexy and often more toxic, standard of care drugs – particularly in the cancer field – that can be the unsung heroes chipping away at the Big C.

I have personally seen this through my Mom’s experience successfully keeping pancreatic cancer at bay. Yes, you read that right – I did say pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed more than three years ago after enduring unexplained lower back pain that just wouldn’t quit, Ruth was diagnosed at Stage 1 – pretty unheard of in pancreatic cancer – and was a candidate for the Whipple procedure – where parts of your lower intestine, pancreas and stomach are removed to “cure” the cancer. Following the surgery, she underwent aggressive radiation and chemotherapy with a combination of Gemzar (that would be the old, unsexy chemo) and slightly newer Xeloda. All was well for almost two years until the expected happened – the cancer spread to her liver last May – immediately following a wonderful family cruise to celebrate Mom’s 75th birthday.

Cue the Gemzar please. Immediately following this news, my siblings and I went into “research” mode and discussed some options with her doctor. We evaluated Tarceva – a relatively new targeted therapy- as well as a host of innovative and experimental options. Given Mom’s incredible tolerance of Gemzar during her first go-around (no hair loss, no nausea, minor fatigue that never stopped her from walking her 3 miles a day) and its past effectiveness – we opted to give it another try.  This past May, we celebrated her 76th birthday – something we never thought possible last year. We’re now planning for Thanksgiving, Hanukah and Christmas celebrations – holidays we never imagined having together again.

I am a huge proponent of innovation in cancer therapy and believe many of the recent breakthroughs in prostate cancer, melanoma and non-hodgkins lymphoma will be welcome additions to doctors, patients and their families. In the backdrop of these innovations, it’s comforting to know that some of the mainstays of therapy that have “past their prime” in the public or media eyes can have a profound impact on people’s lives. For my Mom and our family, it’s allowed us to enjoy everyday pleasures, celebrations and unexpected moments we never dreamed possible with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Have you experienced unexpected results or hope with older therapies? I’d love to hear your story.

I would like to invite you all to an experiment in how information flows out of medical meetings.

Two weeks ago, I proposed that ASCO open up its abstracts to commenting, all the better to allow perspective on data presented at the meeting that might otherwise go without remarks. Even though I realized it wouldn’t be possible for ASCO to re-design its abstract site for this year’s meeting – starting tomorrow – I have been nagged by the fact that so much of the commentary (and would-be commentary) from the 2011 meeting might be lost.

So over the weekend, I began creating a simple spreadsheet to capture some of the ASCO social media chatter in one place. I wanted to be able to create a single location where abstract-specific information being swapped on social media (Twitter, blogs, Facebook) could be aggregated. The first version of this effort is not elegant. It’s not simple, but I’ve started building it, linking to the tweets and blogs I’ve seen. Please take a look.

I plan to continue expanding this over the next week, but to maximize this resource, others must play along. Here’s how:

  • Keep tweeting about research, especially research off of the beaten path. Tag your tweets with “#ASCO11” and include an abstract number to make it easy to index. (e.g. “Interesting take on combination therapy in metastatic bladder cancer. http://bit.ly/example, #ASCO11 abst. 5555”)
  • If you have a blog or a Facebook post on a specific abstract or set of research, please let me know at breid@wcgworld.com.
  • If you don’t use social media or want to comment directly, you can input your thoughts directly using an online form. The form is optimized for mobile, so you can bookmark http://bit.ly/socialabst and publish your thoughts directly from a session.
  • If you’ve already tweeted and I’ve missed your tweet, you can input it yourself using the form, or just send me a message on Twitter and I’ll add it in.

Admittedly, there the limitations. The sample size so far is small, and this approach doesn’t take into account retweets, so I’m loathe to make sweeping statements about what “the Internet” thinks about this year’s meeting.

But looking through the social media discussion gives a different impression than following the mainstream press over the past two weeks. Focusing on social media has drawn my attention to interesting discussions of cost-benefit analyses and screening, as well as teases of important information yet to be presented. There are also references to deeper dives in specific areas that will be far more captivating to doctors and patients than to the national media.

In all, there have been dozens of different abstracts already highlighted or commented upon (nearly 40, as of this writing), which already outstrips the limited number discussed in the traditional media. I’d love to see that number grow. I’ll follow up again after the meeting and share what I’ve learned.

Let me know if you can help, and see you in Chicago.

Today is, perhaps, the biggest day on the health communications calendar. At 6 p.m., the American Society for Clinical Oncology will release thousands of abstracts on recent advances in cancer to be presented at its annual meeting next month, all of them expanding our understanding of the country’s second-largest killer. Reporters will spend the day being briefed on some of that research, Wall Street insiders will spend the night poring over abstracts, publishing telephone-book-sized notes by this time tomorrow morning.

QR Code for the ASCO 2011 Page

But as I’ve written before, even with all the attention, media coverage will focus on a tiny number of studies. Of the 4,000-plus pieces of research released today, perhaps 10 will be mentioned in the national media tomorrow. Trade media will note a dozen or two more in the weeks to come. At the meeting itself, another small handful of topics will get attention.

The mathematics is somewhat sobering. If tradition holds, more than 99 percent of all abstracts will never get a second look by the press. This is not exactly the fault of the media: this is a volume-of-information problem, and one that the media are struggling with, valiantly. And yet it’s fair to say that a lot of those abstracts deserve a deeper look, if not by the New York Times or Oncology Times, then by *someone*: a physician in the area, a patient with deep knowledge, a researcher in a related area.

But as anyone who has wandered the packed rooms and halls of ASCO before knows, many of these presentations *are* being given that  deeper look. It’s just that there is no mechanism to gather feedback. What if that were to change? What if if every presentation, every poster, every scrap of research at ASCO could be easily commented upon? The meeting would get flipped on its head: instead of only the most touted research getting public comment and scrutiny, a much broader swath of the program would suddenly be fair game.
That would be a huge added value for health care providers and patients alike. How do we get there? Here is my modest proposal:

  • Attach a QR code to every piece of research being presented, from the online abstract to the physical poster.
  • Make sure that QR links back to a single, unique page for every every abstract.
  • Let researchers append additional materials to the abstract: final posters, links to methods or background.
  • Ensure that the pages are open for commenting  (and bonus points for making them tweetable or likeable on Facebook).
  • Let the masses have at it, and keep those abstracts and comments up for posterity.

This is clearly not doable for 2011, but imagine how this could change the game in 2012. To be sure, there are obstacles. Science hasn’t traditionally done peer review in public. There are technical challenges and the traditional issues with moderation. And there is a likelihood that, for the vast majority of the abstracts, no one would comment, “Like,” tweet or otherwise share. But it wouldn’t matter. Right now, the number of abstracts that receive even a passing mention from the media probably totals less than 100, and the number that gets major attention is far, far smaller. If even 5 percent of abstracts receive additional commentary, the amount of perspective on the meeting will quadruple.

ASCO is too big, too important to limit coverage to just a handful of items. “Socializing” the media would allow the meeting to live up to its reputation as the medical meeting of the year. See you there.

(Note to clients: in advance of the meeting, WCG is publishing its Oncology Media Guide, an overview of the outlets and trends shaping the cancer landscape. If you’re interested in receiving a copy, please contact me or your client partner.)

Today is, perhaps, the biggest day on the health communications calendar. At 6 p.m., the American Society for Clinical Oncology releases thousands of abstracts on recent advances in cancer to be presented at its annual meeting next month, all of them expanding our understanding of the country’s second-largest killer. Reporters will spend the day being briefed on some of that research, Wall Street insiders will spend the night poring over abstracts, publishing telephone-book-sized notes by this time tomorrow morning.

But as I’ve written before, even with all the attention, media coverage will focus on a tiny number of studies. Of the 4,000-plus pieces of research, perhaps 10 will be mentioned in the national media tomorrow. Trade media will note a dozen or two more in the weeks to come. At the meeting itself, another small handful of topics will get attention.

The mathematics is somewhat sobering. If tradition holds, more than 99 percent of all abstracts will never get a second look by the press. This is not exactly the fault of the media: this is a volume-of-information problem, and one that the media are struggling with, valiantly. And yet it’s fair to say that a lot of those abstracts deserve a deeper look, if not by the New York Times or Oncology Times, then by *someone*: a physician in the area, a patient with deep knowledge, a researcher in a related area.

But as anyone who has wandered the packed rooms and halls of ASCO before knows, many of these presentations are being given that  deeper look. It’s just that there is no mechanism to gather feedback. What if that were to change? What if if every presentation, every poster, every scrap of research at ASCO could be easily commented upon? The meeting would get flipped on its head: instead of only the most touted research getting public comment and scrutiny, a much broader swath of the program would suddenly be fair game.

That would be a huge added value for health care providers and patients alike. How do we get there? Here is my modest proposal:

* Attach a QR code to every piece of research being presented, from the online abstract to the physical poster.

* Make sure that QR that links back to a single, unique page for every every abstract.

* Let researchers append additional materials to the abstract: final posters, links to methods or background.

* Ensure that the pages are open for commenting  (and bonus points for making them tweetable or likeable on Facebook).

* Let the masses have at it, and keep those abstracts and comments up for posterity.

This is clearly not doable for 2011, but imagine how this could change the game in 2012. To be sure, there are obstacles. Science hasn’t traditionally done peer review in public. There are technical challenges and the traditional issues with moderation. And there is a likelihood that, for the vast majority of the abstracts, no one would comment, “Like,” tweet or otherwise share. But it wouldn’t matter. Right now, the number of abstracts that receive even a passing mention from the media probably totals less than 100, and the number that gets major attention is far, far smaller. If even 5 percent of abstracts receive additional commentary, the amount of perspective on the meeting will quadruple.

ASCO is too big, too important to limit coverage to just a handful of items. “Socializing” the media would allow the meeting to live up to its reputation as the medical meeting of the year. See you there.