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Studies show rise in oncology social media ahead of 2014 ASCO event

Oncologists' use of social media is something to monitor when the 2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting commences in June.

Each year the use of the ASCO hashtag has increased as more oncology clinicians, researchers and professionals have embraced social media as an important way to broadcast important information discussed at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. The ASCO14 hashtag will likely be seen in hundreds of tweets in June, when more than 25,000 oncologists are scheduled to attend the 2014 ASCO conference in Chicago.

In 2010, research documented in the Journal of Oncology Practice found that 14 physicians sent 979 tweets from ASCO. A year later, 34 physicians sent 1,477 tweets from ASCO. Researchers suggest Twitter can provide "up-to-the-second colleague-generated commentary and perspective on breaking data ahead of traditional online or print media and formal peer-reviewed publication."

A 2013 report from MDLinx found that 21% of oncologists visit online peer networks when seeking information about clinical decisions. These physicians are often asking colleagues about their experience using second-line or third-line treatments in cancer patients who have not responded to first-line medications.

Oncologists are also embracing physician-only social networks like Doximity where they can discuss clinical questions and gather information from colleagues. Doximity is a professional online medical network where physicians can connect with other physicians, send secure encrypted messages and find employment opportunities. Effective cancer care often involves multiple specialists such as surgeons, pulmonologists, urologists, pathologists, radiologists and others. Oncologists can now engage in interdisciplinary collaboration and discussions with other physicians by using secure online networks to discuss treatment options and clinical care pathways.

QuantiaMD is another online social network that provides a service to oncologists by delivering short, relevant education in an interactive, online multimedia format. This allows busy oncologists to keep up with the latest advances in drug treatments, changing clinical practice guidelines and new approaches to cancer care. QuantiaMD can also allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to participate in clinical discussions and ask questions to physicians and share their insights with physicians. In 2011, QuantiaMD published a study showing that 28% of physicians were using "professional physician communities with the highest enthusiasm around using them to learn from experts and peers."

The Association of Community Cancer Centers has an active online forum where members discuss some of the key challenges associated with delivering cancer care in various community settings ranging from rural America to large cities. Oncology nurses, administrators and physicians are some of the professionals who use forums like this to share ideas and best practices. Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, says, "Social media can help us reach people everywhere without limits of geography or time zones. It is incumbent upon us to put good content in the hands of people who need it and to engage with patients beyond the traditional boundaries of the exam room."

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Hospitals and cancer centers around the country are also leveraging social media to connect with patients and market their oncology services. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are the commonly-used platforms that allow healthcare providers to connect with patients. Ruben Mesa, M.D., is the director of the Acute and Chronic Leukemias Program in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. His YouTube videos on hematology and oncology topics such as myelofibrosis and polycythemia have been viewed tens of thousands of times and have resulted in referrals and patient visits from around the country.

The momentum around social media has been growing exponentially the last few years. In 2012, the Journal of Oncology Practice published a paper titled Practical Guidance: The Use of Social Media in Oncology Practice. In this article, a working group of the ASCO Integrated Media and Technology Committee explored how oncologists might responsibly use social media in their professional lives. They wrote that oncologists may use social media as a platform for patient education and authoritative health messaging, for professional development and knowledge sharing, and for direct patient interaction.

The conversations begun with the hashtag ASCO14 will likely continue past the 2014 ASCO conference as oncologists, researchers and professionals collaborate on ways to improve cancer care. The ASCO plays a part in encouraging these interactions by providing "Ten Tips for Use of Social Media" on a small pocket card to remind members and attendees about the appropriate use of social media in a public setting.

About the author:
Joseph Kim is a physician technologist who has a passion for leveraging health IT to improve public health. Dr. Kim is the founder of and is an active social media specialist. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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