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Increased Use of Social Media by Oncology Service Providers

Increased Use of Social MediaSocial networking channels are gaining importance among oncology professionals and cancer hospitals owing to their mechanisms for instantaneous scientific dialogue. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has already embraced social media to extend the reach of scientific communications related to their scientific meetings. A 2012 study shows that if 14 physicians sent 979 tweets from ASCO in 2010, the number increased to 34 physicians and 1,477 tweets in 2011. As per Symplur (U.S. firm specializing in healthcare social media analytics), tweets from ASCO hit 38,056 after the 2014 ASCO conference in Chicago compared to 14,634 sent out at the 2013 convention. Moreover, we can see at least one social site with National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer centers, mostly Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. But why do oncology service providers increasingly use social networking channels? What are the benefits of instant mechanisms? Let’s look at this in some detail.

How Social Media Helps These Providers

  • Make Appropriate Clinical Decisions – A report released by MDLinx, an M3 company in 2013 revealed that around 21 percent oncologists visit online peer networks seeking information about clinical decisions. They often use this medium to ask colleagues about their experience in providing second-line or third-line treatments for cancer patients that have not responded to first-line medications. Oncologists widely accept the use of physician-only social networks including Doximity as they allow them to discuss clinical questions and gather the required information from their colleagues more effectively. Usually multiple specialists such as surgeons, radiologists, urologists and others are involved in effective cancer care and social networks will provide oncologists a better opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration and discussions with these specialists so as to come up with more effective treatment options and clinical care pathways.
  • Educate Themselves on Practice Guidelines and Policies – QuantiaMD is a social networking site that provides short, relevant education to oncologists in an interactive, multimedia format. With this service, oncologists can learn about the latest advancements in drug treatments, keep up with changing clinical practice guidelines and new approaches in cancer care. This online social network also enables nurse practitioners and physician assistants to take part in clinical discussions, ask clinical questions to physicians and share their insights with those physicians.
  • Discuss Challenges Associated with Cancer Care – There is an active online forum by the Association of Community Cancer Centers in which members can discuss key challenges associated with delivering cancer care in rural areas to large metropolitan areas. Oncology nurses, administrators and physicians can use these kinds of forums to share their ideas and best practices; they can also learn such things in return.
  • Enhance Communication with Patients – In any healthcare setting, communication between patients and physicians is very important for effective care delivery. Social media enhances this communication with instant mechanisms and increases patient engagement so that they can receive advice, medications and treatments at the appropriate time. This will improve the quality of care with oncology practices and cancer centers. Certain healthcare providers venture into online wellness groups to better connect with patients.
  • Effective Promotion – Social networking channels serve as a robust platform for hospitals, cancer centers and oncology practices to increase patient visits to their websites and getting referrals around the country. The practice of marketing oncology services on social media is easy and cost-effective. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are the platforms mostly used by providers to draw the attention of patients to their services.

Using Social Media Effectively for Oncology

Though social media is useful for oncology service providers, they should use this service appropriately in a public setting for getting desirable results. In its efforts to social media interactions, ASCO provides some tips for the effective use of social network which are:

  • Get Involved and Engage Frequently – Utilize your opportunity to publicize credible information and influence your peers and patients on social network at its best. You should often provide input, respond to others’ comments and create new content.
  • Establish Your Identity – Rather than being anonymous, always maintain your identity on social networks so that your content will be discoverable by the users.
  • Protect Patient Confidentiality and Privacy – While you are playing the role of a clinician, ensure that your activities do not violate relevant state and federal laws including HIPAA. You should strictly follow the guidelines set up by your institution.
  • Contextualize Activities and Avoid Impropriety – Ensure that your activities on social media are viewed by the users in the appropriate context (personal view or institutional view). Any potential conflict of interests should be disclosed readily as well, leaving no chance for impropriety.
  • Give Credit – Always respect copyright and therefore give credit wherever it is due.
  • Be Professional – Ensure a sense of professionalism in whatever activities you do on social network. Always separate personal from professional and keep a professional distance from patients.

To put it in a nutshell, social networks offer plenty of opportunities to improve cancer care and are effective media for marketing oncology services. Oncologists can reach out to more patients, provide effective instruction and care while also establishing and maintaining connection with fellow professionals.

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