Doctors and specialists have discovered social media as a useful tool for communicating with colleagues on an international scale about health issues. For example, research has shown that employees from the clinical sector use social media as a tool for recruitment for clinical research. More than a year ago, Mary Caffrey already noted in The American Journal of Managed Care that the use of social media for recruitment was already an established paradigm and healthcare professionals were looking for the next step in technology.
For healthcare professionals (HCPs), the use of social media has proven effective in increasing the involvement of potential participants in research. Not only is there more awareness for recruitment studies, but online conversations between HCPs also reveal their interest in the design of new research. In addition, HCPs appear to be willing to discuss the use of funds for the setup of new research. For example, the results of a study designed to help patients stop taking antidepressants were published at the start of 2019, showing that it was difficult for the CRO to withdraw from the study. The online discussion lead to the interesting post of a London-based consultant and psychiatrist Sameer Jauhar who reported that
“he would have no problems financing feasibility studies of interventions with tax money.”
HCPs use social media primarily to seek interaction with regard to their research results. On an annual basis, tens of thousands of messages on social media share the results of clinical studies that cover nearly all areas of healthcare.
The global reach is considered to be one of the main benefits of using social media. Many health care providers share clinical research results and engage in meaningful discussions with peers with whom they are usually unable to work due to geographical reasons. HCPs now support their colleagues around the world with the most recent research data.
HCPs often share the headlines of their study result on social media and therefore colleagues who don’t read official publications in medical journals still have access to health innovations. They are no longer dependent on hard copy publications or a valuable presence at congresses and seminars to discover these innovations. Research results are available free of charge and up to date in their social feeds.
Analysis of the words that are widely used by HCPs when sharing research results shows that the emphasis is on positive results. For example, HCPs share more exciting, groundbreaking and promising results than disappointing results. The interest is primarily focused on proving the efficacy and safety of therapies so it may help improve the development and outcome of new studies.
Because the internet has increased access to all this information on a global scale, the amount of available information has logically increased enormously. As a result, important study results do not end up in the right place unless they are effectively disseminated. It is therefore important for the traditional channels to follow the new trend. And they do don’t fail to do so. On social media, HCPs often post results from medical journals that use their social accounts to enter into dialogue with their readers.
In the past year, the most shared source of research results was the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, The American College of Cardiology (ACC), The Lancet and The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) were all remarkably influential.
A cross analysis of the number of messages versus the number of impressions showed that there is no perfect correlation between the two. The messages from ACC and JAMA have received a higher number of impressions than other magazines that had a higher post frequency. This implies that the HCPs that share results from these expert sources have more influence on online followers.
It is a new trend that the influence of doctors who share their research results on social media and who are looking for dialogue with colleagues in their field have a greater influence and a greater prestige. They create a leading opinion in the digital conversation about clinical studies. Other healthcare providers base their opinion on those conversations. Influential healthcare providers also work with colleagues who evaluate results posted by other doctors. This increases their reach and expert position.
Digital opinion leaders often differ from traditional opinion leaders (KOLs). The KOLs are highly qualified and experienced doctors with significant academic credentials, while the HCPs that influence online conversation can be active in any role within healthcare.
In the UK, two of the most active HCPs are Olusegun Olusanya, a trainee in intensive care medicine and sonologist, and David Wyant, a cardiac radiographer. These two health care providers have posted over 1000 times about clinical trials on social media in the past year. These messages appeared to influence the online HCP conversation, since they were reposted more than 250 times by other HCPs in the UK.
Another influencer, whose focus is on the COPD space, is Rachel Moses, a respiratory physiotherapist. Moses is an example of a caregiver who has a far reach but who posts less often. Although she has compiled only 23 clinical trial tweets in the last 12 months, these posts have been retweeted 314 times by other UK healthcare providers.
We can conclude that free access to groundbreaking and hopeful research results regarding patient care and new treatments are vital in the advancing health care. Data shared by influential and reliable peers will increasingly reach social media feeds and, therefore, exert more influence on daily practice in hospitals and clinics. The more effectively social media are used by healthcare professionals to disseminate the content and outcome of clinical studies, the more conversations there will be between healthcare providers themselves and with patients. In this regard the use of social media is changing already. Through public and private social media, healthcare providers now consult with each other about patient cases, best treatment methods, new therapy options and the latest clinical research results.
We may consider this a positive development for improving healthcare and patient well-being.