The Power of Twitter: Social Media in Real Time

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The Power of Twitter: Social Media in Real Time
The Power of Twitter: Social Media in Real Time

Egalitarian. That's the one word that best sums up the ‘Twitterverse'. Where else can anyone, whether clinician or patient, with a computer or smartphone—and something to say in 140 characters or less— meet, chat, and share, regardless of time or place?

“Twitter is turning out to be an excellent birds-eye view of what research is capturing the attention of social media, and is giving me the opportunity to comment on it in real time, and to a larger audience, that may or may not include patients directly under my care,” Don S. Dizon, MD, Director, Oncology Sexual Health Clinic and Assistant in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, in Boston, MA, told ChemotherapyAdvisor.com.

Richard Besser, MD, ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor (@DrRichardBesser), recently hosted a Tweet chat on breast cancer (#BreastCancer). The session “attracted a hugely diverse group, from institutions to individual doctors to advocates and thought leaders and, finally, patients,” said Dr. Dizon, who participated. “The questions ranged from screening and prevention to treatment, so a lot was covered in an hour. Several of us posted resources to blogs, sites, and news stories that were relevant. I found that [to be] the most useful part of the conversation.”

Dr. Dizon said that, while he is not seeing Twitter directly influence the way he cares for patients, “it has certainly raised my sensitivity to how cancer is discussed and treatments are communicated. The power of Twitter is in the interactions one can have with a very diverse group of people. It's a daily lesson in how to be clear, succinct, and sensitive.”

In addition, Dr. Dizon said, Twitter has “also given me an opportunity to highlight other research or information that I find interesting or important. Recent examples include the updated guidelines for HER2-testing and interpretation that came from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and College of American Pathologists, published online in October, and an interesting article published in JAMA Internal Medicine on how the terminology used to describe what we currently call ‘ductal carcinoma in situ' influenced patient preferences regarding surgery.”1

Although it remains to be seen what Twitter, and even other digital communities, will contribute to the field of oncology, “as social media's presence becomes more visible (and therefore, something that one cannot ignore), there will be an opportunity to engage the Twitter community in more profound ways, such as helping to fund, initiate, and/or enroll clinical trials; disseminate new knowledge and/or important findings; and perhaps even as an important arm for advocacy,” Dr. Dizon said. “We are seeing some of this already, and I think, if anything, the importance of Twitter will grow.”

One obvious barrier to participating in Twitter is lack of time. “We have a lot of work to convince our colleagues that social media channels like Twitter are worth the investment,” he said.

For clinicians interested in reading more about how to join the Twitterverse, visit http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2012/06/started-twitter-primer-doctors.html; for how it can make you a better clinician, click http://www.imedicalapps.com/2013/02/twitter-better-doctor/. For those seeking what's trending in health care, there's the Healthcare Hashtag Project: http://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/.

Reference

  1. Omer ZB, Hwang ES, Esserman LJ, Howe R, Ozanne EM. Impact of ductal carcinoma in situ terminology on patient treatment preferences. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(19):1830-1831.
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