The use of social media in health has always had one big question lingering over it: why? In a world so focused on real-world interactions that the fax machine – an apparatus that literally gives physical form to the digital world – what is the value-add of a technology that swaps face-to-face interaction for something more ethereal.

That’s the thread that spurred our Social Oncology Project, now in its sixth year. In that span, we’ve looked at everything from the topics that make up the global oncology conversation to narrower examinations of hashtag communities and the way that they bring patients, caregivers and providers together.

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But still the questions arise: why? Why should hospitals invest in social media, and why should physicians – in an era where provider burnout is a real and growing danger to the profession – add one more task to their daily routines?

This year, we set to answer some of those questions, seeking to excavate correlations between top-ranked oncology hospitals – as defined by U.S. News and World Report – and the online behavior of those institutions and their physicians.

Among other conclusions, we found a strong positive correlation between the percentage of a hospitals doctors who are on Twitter and the physician reputation score from U.S. News and World Report.

The top 26 hospital facilities in the USNWR rankings all can boast that over 20 percent of their oncology-related specialists are on Twitter, with some especially forward-looking institutions – the Mayo Clinic, the Mayo Clinic-Phoenix and the Cleveland Clinic – all boasting Twitter usage rates of more than 40 percent of oncology specialists. And those that saw the fastest growth in social media use also saw the most rapid gains in reputation.

In addition to looking at the way that online behavior of providers and institutions intersected with real-world metrics, we also did a second analysis looking more broadly at conversations about oncology medications and value over the course of 2017. This has been a year of extraordinary dialogue on drug prices – President Donald Trump made headlines on the topic, again, this week – and we wanted to see where oncology drugs fell in the conversation.

The topline conclusion: doctors and media were much more likely to discuss the price of oncology medicines than the general population, but – as a share of the overall conversation around a given product – pricing tended not to dominate the conversation around any specific oncology product.