CommonSense Blog

Why Three Physician ‘Superusers’ Have Prioritized Twitter

By Brian Reid | May 26, 2015

Later this week, the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting will kick off. Earlier in the month, research from W2O Group was published by ASCO, examining the use of social media by physicians. It’s an endeavor that will be extended later this week when we release our third Social Oncology Project report.

Our research found, unsurprisingly, that there is a lot of chatter by physicians about cancer on Twitter.

Nearly 140,000 tweets mentioned one of dozens of cancer-related keywords, and more than 5,000 physicians took part in this rolling, public dialogue. But we should be well past the point of being amazed that physicians are taking to social media; it’s a rare professional organization that doesn’t see Twitter use as a key tool to educate physicians and other doctors. For both practice management and public health, engagement on platforms such as Twitter can no longer be ignored.

But in looking deeper, we found that all voices are not equal in conversations about cancer. While those 5,000 doctors all tweeted at least once, there was an elite group of 19 who recorded more than 1,000 cancer-related tweets over the course of the year. That’s a milestone that is impressive, but almost baffling: these are, generally, in-demand oncologists with demanding day jobs. Where are they finding the time to dash off dozens of tweets a week?

So we asked. And here are the answers.

website_photo[1]DR. DEANNA ATTAI, Assistant clinical professor of surgery at UCLA, president of American Society of Breast Surgeons:

We know there are huge knowledge gaps and we feel it’s our duty of sorts to try to close that. I think also for me–and this accounts for the volume–is that my audience is both patients/public and docs, where many docs don’t interact much with the patient communities. It’s a real challenge as I do have my true day job (patient care) as well as my new job (ASBrS president) but I just think it serves too great a need (perhaps an inflated sense of worth?) to just let it go. There is satisfaction is seeing patients have their questions answered, become empowered, and then get to witness them mentoring and educating others. And the the satisfaction for MD engagement is seeing docs transition from being social media skeptics to the “ah ha” moment when they recognize the value.

ago1KktK[1]DR. MICHAEL FISCH, Medical director of medical oncology for AIM Specialty Health:

I find that I am able to use twitter as a way to find useful information that cuts across broad topics in oncology. For example, given my interest in cross-cutting oncology topics, how else might I expect to keep up on this array of information? Twitter allows me to harness my colleagues to guide me, through their mentions and retweets, to high-value articles and influential pieces in the lay press. Of course, there is some initial “activation energy” that it takes to learn any new thing (like a new kind of smartphone), but once you have the basics figured out, things get very efficient.

7c2b2cf6756ab7535e0184962d9f6bea[1]DR. JACK WEST, Medical oncologist and founder/president of cancer education nonprofit GRACE:

The main motivation sharing information is that this is the information that I appreciate getting from other people. I have learned a lot from tweets I’ve come across, I want to share the things that I think are of value to other people. There have been many practical benefits as well, such as developing relationships with various thought leaders in oncology through twitter, finding at least one of the board members for GRACE (Sally Church) via Twitter, and even ultimately being selected as web editor for JAMA Oncology largely because of my online presence. But at the end of the day, the primary motivation is just to share information that you would want to receive yourself. We want to be valuable contributors to our community, in this case an online cancer community.

To track what Drs. Attai, Fisch, West (and thousands of other oncologists) will be discussing on Twitter during #ASCO15, please subscribe to W2O Group’s “Complete Response” newsletter, delivered every morning of the conference. Complete Response will curate and package the tweets and links most-shared by the most important group of ASCO attendees: oncologists.