Twitter: A Social Soundtrack for Medical Meetings

Twitter has changed a lot of things in healthcare. One of them is communication at medical meetings.

ASCO Twitter Trend

Volume of #ASCO13 tweets from 6pm-9pm, May 15, 2013 (Source: The Healthcare Hashtag Project, Symplur)

Yesterday, the embargo of abstracts to be presented at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Congress was lifted at 6pm, creating a big wave of conversations on Twitter.

Oncology is one of the most active and exciting therapeutic areas for drug development. According to a report from the industry organization PhRMA, there are more than 3,000 projects in development for cancer treatment and 80 percent of them are potential first-in-class medicines. This explains the high anticipation of ASCO on Twitter.

Thanks to Healthcare Hashtags Project, an amazing tool developed by Symplur and contributed by a wide range of partners in the healthcare space, we are able to pull and visualize the ASCO tweets.

Following are some key Twitter metrics about #ASCO13 from 6pm-9pm yesterday I pulled from the website:

  • 260+ tweets were issued 
  • More than 120 users issued tweets
  • The tweets potentially reached more than 2.5 million users

From a healthcare perspective, these numbers are impressive–this is a strictly regulated industry and it takes tremendous efforts for stakeholders such as pharmaceutical companies and device manufactures to develop informative and fair-balanced content that fits 140 characters.

When we look at these numbers more closely, we have some more interesting findings:

  • Adam Feuerstein, reporter from The Street issued the most tweets (11) and was also mentioned the most (26 times) on Twitter
  • Seven pharma companies issued tweets during the time period 
  • Gilead issued the most tweets (3 tweets); Genentech was mentioned the most (15 times)
  • Although BMS only issued one tweet, the  company was mentioned six times on Twitter because of its promising data on its PD-1 compound, which has generated significant coverage in the traditional media space
  • A majority of tweets included comments or point of view rather than just news sharing
ASCO Influencer

Twitter influencers of the evening of #ASCO13 embargo lifting (Source: Symplur)

These findings give us three important insights. First, organizations can capitalize on news trend to strengthen message penetration online. Second, Twitter can significantly augment the influence of individual users. Third, opinions expressed on Twitter may have larger implications for marketing and communication strategy development.

What’s happening around ASCO on Twitter  have also appeared during other major medical meetings. While attendees participate in events taking place on site , another gathering is taking place on Twitter simultaneously, with a much larger and diverse audience, creating a “social soundtrack”  for the meeting.

Now, many medical meetings introduce official Twitter hashtags to facilitate such conversations online. A list put together by Symplur shows from May 10 to May 21, 35 medical or healthcare-related conferences have listed official hashtags.

A major implication of the trend is that data presented at a medical meeting become instantly accessible by the general public. Twitter users–from multinational corporations, large hospitals to researchers from academia have the same opportunity to share their point of view to a wide audience. Those who understand how to develop engaging, relevant and informative digital content have great advantage to lead the charge in online conversation and deliver key messages to a large audience. Take yesterday’s ASCO embargo lifting as an example, the most active participants were reporters, pharma companies, media outlets and oncologists–all came with key messages in mind. For those who made it on top of the list, they succeeded. Just browsing through #ASCO13 tweets from yesterday, you already have a pretty clear idea of what data people would be talking about the most in Chicago two weeks from now, even if you know nothing about oncology R&D.

One of the most exciting changes that social media has brought to healthcare and medicine is that the emerging tool breaks the barriers of information that was only available to highly trained medical professionals. Now, by including a hashtag, anyone can be a participant of a medical meeting. You can argue whether it is a good idea or not but one thing is clear: traditional players in healthcare can no longer talk to each other in a vacuum. As the digital movement evolves, the audience of medical meetings is changing and we may soon forget days when there wasn’t a hashtag for the meeting.

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4 Comments on “Twitter: A Social Soundtrack for Medical Meetings”

  1. Jesaros Interactive Media May 17, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    Reblogged this on Art Jones and commented:
    Social media is breaking down barries to medical information.

  2. Mike Thompson, MDPhD (@mtmdphd) May 18, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Great blog post!

    I love the Symplur analytics.
    (Notice who submitted the #ASCO13 conference hashtag…)

    Of historical reference:
    Trends in Twitter Use by Physicians at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, 2010 and 2011
    Aafia Chaudhry, MD, L. Michael Glodé, MD, FACP, Matt Gillman and Robert S. Miller, MD, FACP
    JOP April 17, 2012

    Social media channels such as Twitter are gaining increasing acceptance as mechanisms for instantaneous scientific dialogue. Professional medical societies such as ASCO are using social media to expand the reach of scientific communications at and around their scientific meetings. This article examines the how Twitter use by oncologists expanded at the ASCO Annual Meetings from 2010 to 2011.

    In both years, tweets that were specifically generated by physicians and that incorporated the official meeting hashtag were harvested from the public domain, and a discourse analysis was performed by three independent raters. Follow-up surveys were conducted to assess physician attitudes toward Twitter and its potential role in clinical practice.

    A combined total of 12,644 tweets were analyzed for 2010 and 2011. Although the number of physicians authoring tweets was small (14 in 2010, 34 in 2011), this group generated nearly 29% of the total meeting dialogue examined in this analysis in 2010 and 23% in 2011. Physicians used Twitter for reporting clinical news from scientific sessions, for discussions of treatment issues, for promotion, and to provide social commentary. The tangible impact of Twitter discussions on clinical practice remains unclear.

    Despite the 140-character limit, Twitter was successfully used by physicians at the 2010 and 2011 ASCO Annual Meetings to engage in clinical discussions, whether or not an author was on site as a live attendee. Twitter usage grew significantly from 2010 to 2011. Professional societies should monitor these phenomena to enhance annual meeting attendee user experience.

  3. Editor May 23, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    Reblogged this on Health Care Social Media Monitor.


  1. Beyond the 16,000 #ASCO13 tweets: leveraging the use of social media for ASCO and the oncology community | Thoughts From Broad Street - June 4, 2013

    […] I mentioned in an earlier post, emerging communication channels like Twitter has made medical information much more available for […]

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