Twitter is Becoming a Powerful Tool in Science and Medicine
Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.
A recent Science article (Who are the science stars of Twitter?; Sept. 19, 2014) reported the top 50 scientists followed on Twitter. However, the article tended to focus on the use of Twitter as a means to develop popularity, a sort of “Science Kardashian” as they coined it. So the writers at Science developed a “Kardashian Index (K-Index) to determine scientists following and popularity on Twitter.
Now as much buzz Kim Kardashian or a Perez Hilton get on social media, their purpose is solely for entertainment and publicity purposes, the Science sort of fell flat in that it focused mainly on the use of Twitter as a metric for either promotional or public outreach purposes. A notable scientist was mentioned in the article, using Twitter feed to gauge the receptiveness of his presentation. In addition, relying on Twitter for effective public discourse of science is problematic as:
- Twitter feeds are rapidly updated and older feeds quickly get buried within the “Twittersphere” = LIMITED EXPOSURE TIMEFRAME
- Short feeds may not provide the access to appropriate and understandable scientific information (The Science Communication Trap) which is explained in The Art of Communicating Science: traps, tips and tasks for the modern-day scientist. “The challenge of clearly communicating the intended scientific message to the public is not insurmountable but requires an understanding of what works and what does not work.” – from Heidi Roop, G.-Martinez-Mendez and K. Mills
However, as highlighted below, Twitter, and other social media platforms are being used in creative ways to enhance the research, medical, and bio investment collaborative, beyond a simple news-feed. And the power of Twitter can be attributed to two simple features
- Ability to organize – through use of the hashtag (#) and handle (@), Twitter assists in the very important task of organizing, indexing, and ANNOTATING content and conversations. A very great article on Why the Hashtag in Probably the Most Powerful Tool on Twitter by Vanessa Doctor explains how hashtags and # search may be as popular as standard web-based browser search. Thorough annotation is crucial for any curation process, which are usually in the form of database tags or keywords. The use of # and @ allows curators to quickly find, index and relate disparate databases to link annotated information together. The discipline of scientific curation requires annotation to assist in the digital preservation, organization, indexing, and access of data and scientific & medical literature. For a description of scientific curation methodologies please see the following links:
Please read the following articles on CURATION
Power of Analogy: Curation in Music, Music Critique as a Curation and Curation of Medical Research Findings – A Comparison
- Information Analytics -
Multiple analytic software packages have been made available to analyze information surrounding Twitter feeds, including Twitter feeds from #chat channels one can set up to cover a meeting, product launch etc.. Some of these tools include:
Twitter Analytics – measures metrics surrounding Tweets including retweets, impressions, engagement, follow rate, …
Twitter Analytics – Hashtags.org – determine most impactful # for your Tweets For example, meeting coverage of bioinvestment conferences or startup presentations using #startup generates automatic retweeting by Startup tweetbot @StartupTweetSF.
- Tweet Sentiment Analytics
Examples of Twitter Use
A. Scientific Meeting Coverage
- The 2013 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Annual Spring Conference. integrated social media with meeting proceedings to enhance conference engagement
In a paper entitled Twitter Use at a Family Medicine Conference: Analyzing #STFM13 authors Ranit Mishori, MD, Frendan Levy, MD, and Benjamin Donvan analyzed the public tweets from the 2013 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) conference bearing the meeting-specific hashtag #STFM13. Thirteen percent of conference attendees (181 users) used the #STFM13 to share their thoughts on the meeting (1,818 total tweets) showing a desire for social media interaction at conferences but suggesting growth potential in this area. As we have also seen, the heaviest volume of conference-tweets originated from a small number of Twitter users however most tweets were related to session content.
However, as the authors note, although it is easy to measure common metrics such as number of tweets and retweets, determining quality of engagement from tweets would be important for gauging the value of Twitter-based social-media coverage of medical conferences.
Thea authors compared their results with similar analytics generated by the HealthCare Hashtag Project, a project and database of medically-related hashtag use, coordinated and maintained by the company Symplur. Symplur’s database includes medical and scientific conference Twitter coverage but also Twitter usuage related to patient care. In this case the database was used to compare meeting tweets and hashtag use with the 2012 STFM conference.
These are some of the published journal articles that have employed Symplur (www.symplur.com) data in their research of Twitter usage in medical conferences.
- The impact of social media on a major international emergency medicine conference.
Neill, A., Cronin, J. J., Brannigan, D., O’Sullivan, R., & Cadogan, M. (2013). The impact of social media on a major international emergency medicine conference. Emergency Medicine Journal, emermed-2012. Chicago
- Social media in radiology: early trends in Twitter microblogging at radiology’s largest international meeting.
Hawkins, C. M., Duszak, R., & Rawson, J. V. (2014). Social Media in Radiology: Early Trends in Twitter Microblogging at Radiology’s Largest International Meeting. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 11(4), 387-390.
- International Urology Journal Club via Twitter: 12-Month Experience.
Thangasamy, I. A., Leveridge, M., Davies, B. J., Finelli, A., Stork, B., & Woo, H. H. (2014). International Urology Journal Club via Twitter: 12-Month Experience. European urology.
- Use of social media in urology: data from the American Urological Association (AUA).
Loeb, S., Bayne, C. E., Frey, C., Davies, B. J., Averch, T. D., Woo, H. H., … & Eggener, S. E. (2014). Use of social media in urology: data from the American Urological Association (AUA). BJU international, 113(6), 993-998. Chicago.
- Social media: A tool to spread information: A case study analysis of Twitter conversation at the Cardiac Society of Australia & New Zealand 61st Annual Scientific Meeting 2013.
Ferguson, C., Inglis, S. C., Newton, P. J., Cripps, P. J., Macdonald, P. S., & Davidson, P. M. (2014). Social media: A tool to spread information: A case study analysis of Twitter conversation at the Cardiac Society of Australia & New Zealand 61st Annual Scientific Meeting 2013. Collegian.
- Here, at Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence (LBPI) we have integrated our web site, Twitter handle (@pharma_BI), and meeting specific hashtags, with a unique methodology, to monitor and measure meeting participant engagement for various international meetings (please see our Press Coverage section of our site for more information). These meetings included the 2nd Annual Sachs Associates Cancer BioInvestment & Partnering Forum and the 14th Annual Sachs Associates Global Forum.
B. Twitter Usage for Patient Care and Engagement
Although the desire of patients to use and interact with their physicians over social media is increasing, along with increasing health-related social media platforms and applications, there are certain obstacles to patient-health provider social media interaction, including lack of regulatory framework as well as database and security issues. Some of the successes and issues of social media and healthcare are discussed in the post Can Mobile Health Apps Improve Oral-Chemotherapy Adherence? The Benefit of Gamification.
However there is also a concern if social media truly engages the patient and improves patient education. In a study of Twitter communications by breast cancer patients Tweeting about breast cancer, authors noticed Tweeting was a singular event. The majority of tweets did not promote any specific preventive behavior. The authors concluded “Twitter is being used mostly as a one-way communication tool.” (Using Twitter for breast cancer prevention: an analysis of breast cancer awareness month. Thackeray R1, Burton SH, Giraud-Carrier C, Rollins S, Draper CR. BMC Cancer. 2013;13:508).
In addition a new poll by Harris Interactive and HealthDay shows one third of patients want some mobile interaction with their physicians.
Some papers cited in Symplur’s HealthCare Hashtag Project database on patient use of Twitter include:
- e-Patients in Twitter Hashtag Communities.
Harmel M, Young K. e-Patients in twitter hashtag communities . J Participat Med. 2013 Jan 16; 5:e22
- Nurses and Twitter: The good, the bad, and the reluctant.
Wilson, R., Ranse, J., Cashin, A., & McNamara, P. (2013). Nurses and Twitter: The good, the bad, and the reluctant. Collegian. Chicago.
- Using social media for continuous professional development.
Moorley, C., & Chinn, T. (2014). Using social media for continuous professional development. Journal of advanced nursing.
- Networking opportunities for learning disability nurses.
Abdulla, S., Marsden, D., Wilson, S., & Parker, M. (2013). Networking opportunities for learning disability nurses: Samuel Abdulla and colleagues explain why social media offer professionals new opportunities for information sharing, discussion and peer support. Learning Disability Practice, 16(5), 30-32.
- Using Twitter for professional knowledge.
Kraft, M. A. (2013). Using Twitter for professional knowledge. Journal of the European Association for Health Information and Libraries, 9(4), 10.
- A Study on the Influence of Semantics on the Analysis of Micro-blog Tags in the Medical Domain.
Vicient, C., & Moreno, A. (2013). A Study on the Influence of Semantics on the Analysis of Micro-blog Tags in the Medical Domain. In Availability, Reliability, and Security in Information Systems and HCI (pp. 446-459). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
- Twitter for Public Health: An Open-source Data Solution.
Nghiema, S., Mehtab, P., & Taoc, L. Twitter for Public Health: An Open-source Data Solution. Chicago.
C. Twitter Use in Pharmacovigilance to Monitor Adverse Events
Pharmacovigilance is the systematic detection, reporting, collecting, and monitoring of adverse events pre- and post-market of a therapeutic intervention (drug, device, modality e.g.). In a Cutting Edge Information Study, 56% of pharma companies databases are an adverse event channel and more companies are turning to social media to track adverse events (in Pharmacovigilance Teams Turn to Technology for Adverse Event Reporting Needs). In addition there have been many reports (see Digital Drug Safety Surveillance: Monitoring Pharmaceutical Products in Twitter) that show patients are frequently tweeting about their adverse events.
There have been concerns with using Twitter and social media to monitor for adverse events. For example FDA funded a study where a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and other academic centers examined more than 60,000 tweets, of which 4,401 were manually categorized as resembling adverse events and compared with the FDA pharmacovigilance databases. Problems associated with such social media strategy were inability to obtain extra, needed information from patients and difficulty in separating the relevant Tweets from irrelevant chatter. The UK has launched a similar program called WEB-RADR to determine if monitoring #drug_reaction could be useful for monitoring adverse events. Many researchers have found the adverse-event related tweets “noisy” due to varied language but had noticed many people do understand some principles of causation including when adverse event subsides after discontinuing the drug.
However Dr. Clark Freifeld, Ph.D., from Boston University and founder of the startup Epidemico, feels his company has the algorithms that can separate out the true adverse events from the junk. According to their web site, their algorithm has high accuracy when compared to the FDA database. Dr. Freifeld admits that Twitter use for pharmacovigilance purposes is probably a starting point for further follow-up, as each patient needs to fill out the four-page forms required for data entry into the FDA database.
Other posts on this site on USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TWITTER IN HEALTHCARE and Conference Coverage include: