Like many people, Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD, a hematologist/oncologist at ProHealth Care Regional Cancer Center in Wisconsin, had little interest in social media until he saw its power unleashed in the Middle East. “I remember hearing during Arab Spring uprisings about how people were using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to organize protests and show the world what was going on,” he said in an interview. “And I didn't quite understand how that worked.”
When he attended a professional meeting a few weeks later, he seized the opportunity to find out. Michael J. Fisch, MD, MPH, Chair of the General Oncology Department at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was preparing a presentation on social media, and he tutored Thompson on what he had learned.
Within a year, Thompson had joined Fisch and others as a blogger on ASCO Connection (http://connection.asco.org), and become both a prolific Twitter user and an overall thought leader about social media use by oncologists. He was one of the speakers on a well-received session on social media at this year's ASCO Annual Meeting—“Using Social Media in Oncology for Education and Patient Engagement (with Anas Younes, MD, and Robert S. Miller, MD—both of whom were previously featured in OT's Profiles in Oncology Social Media series, in the 9/25/10 and 4/10/12 issues, respectively).
Thompson is also a coauthor—with Fisch and Miller, as well as Don Dizon, MD (first author), David Graham, MD; Lisa Johnson, MHS, and Claire Johnston—of an article on the topic in the Journal of Oncology Practice: “Practical Guidance: The Use of Social Media in Oncology Practice,” now available online ahead of print (doi: 10.1200/JOP.2012.000610).
Thompson, who previously served as Clinical Trials Lead Investigator of the National Cancer Institute's Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP) and Co-Chair of the NCCCP Clinical Trials Portfolio/Accrual Log Working Group, is now a member of ASCO's Integrated Media and Technology Committee and is in the ASCO Leadership Development Program.
What social media do you use most?
“I use Doximity [doximity.com, a professional networking tool for physicians and other health care professionals] every day and I use Twitter every day. I check into other social media sites such as Quora, Research Gate, Sermo, and the LinkedIn forums intermittently.
“I definitely use Twitter the most because I can look at it quickly and it doesn't take much time to see an update when I am tracking a specific topic. A colleague said it's like having Bloomberg TV or CNN running in the background as you're doing other stuff. It is a constant feed to keep you up to date to what's going on—and allow you to sometimes dip your brain into that and give commentary back to people and share thoughts.
“I like the short format, but because of the ability to do tinyurl and other URL shortening links to blogs, New England Journal of Medicine articles, and other material, I can also derive information from that.
“I use Facebook for my family, not professionally. I blog on the ASCO Connection blog. And I set up a Pinterest account. It is really growing quickly, and many of the users are women, and women make most of the health care decisions in families. So, for marketing physician-specific or hospital line services, advocacy, or patient education, I think Pinterest is a great place to be, and it is being under-utilized in health care.”
You are a member of Doximity's “dream team” of medical advisors and were an early user and in the past advised HealthTap, a social platform that allows doctors and patients to connect online. What should oncologists know about these media?
“Doximity is sometimes referred to as ‘Facebook for physicians,’ but it is quite different. The discussions are often about health care policy or cases. There is little of the off-topic commentary about politics, religion, or turf wars found in other online forums. The discussions are very different from those in some anonymous physician sites because everyone is verified, and it has HIPAA-compliant messaging and an electronic faxing capability. It feels smaller and more secure than Facebook or LinkedIn. Doximity has also worked with the Stanford Medical School alumni association and other places to try to create other microcosms of networking for specific organizations.
“The idea for HealthTap is that people can ask questions and physicians can provide a short answer. HealthTap interested me as a free service that builds a database where people can go and get their questions answered, rather than just passively searching for answers on the Internet.
“The way I approach it—and the way I think it should be approached—is by giving general answers to general questions. Whenever it seems like a question is getting very patient-focused or specific, I think it is appropriate to point to a general guideline and advise the patient to talk to his or her doctor.”
How has your professional network changed since you became involved in social media?
“For one thing, I now have interactions with people that I otherwise wouldn't have. For example, I read the book The Tao of Twitter and posted something about it on Twitter—and then the author said something in response. Without Twitter, I never would have gone to any effort to track down the author to comment on the book. But with very little effort, we interacted.
“Also, after I have followed someone on Twitter for a while and they have followed me, when we later meet in person at a meeting, we have already established sort of a relationship. There were some people at the ASCO Tweet-up [at the Annual Meeting] whom I had met only through Twitter and other social media, and when we met in person, we had already been having these long, ongoing conversations.
“I like social media because it is egalitarian. It is so seamless and low effort to be able to interact with people, and the interaction is all based on what your ideas are; it doesn't matter if you're the chairman of a department at some big institution, or you just have an idea to contribute to the conversation. Or maybe you just have a question, but you can still interact easily. I think that is very enriching.”
Do you use social media primarily to educate yourself, to share your ideas, or for some other purpose?
“Most of the time I'm passively reading, and sometimes I'm just retweeting without comments. The next level of interaction is retweeting with comments, and the next level is direct-messaging with individuals. In the hierarchy of involvement, those are actually the most interesting. And from there, sometimes I say, ‘Let's switch to email because I can't keep this 140-character thing going.’ Some of that has led to interactions and email and phone discussions about potential collaborative research projects.”
What does the ASCO Integrated Media and Technology Committee do?
“In the past, it dealt with the technology used for ASCO internal communications and for ASCO meetings. Increasingly, it is seen as very integral to how communication happens, how information is disseminated, and how a sense of community can be created.
“This has resulted in integration with the Education Committee because so much of ASCO's education offerings are now electronic. The journals are now online and in iPad versions. The committee has been involved in sessions at the ASCO Annual Meeting and with Tweet-ups.”
Mayo Clinic hosts a social media summit each year. What did you learn when you attended?
“Going into that, I thought I would learn some technical tips and a little bit of a roadmap on how to use social media. But I found that it was much more interesting. Presenters talked really about the revolution in how we interact and deal with each other.
“I listened to cancer survivor Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave, http://ePatientDave.com) and Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, (@SeattleMamaDoc, http://seattlemamadoc.com) discuss how they use social media to educate large numbers of people. Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH (@EndoGoddess, http://endogoddess.blogspot.com) reviewed how she did a research project to see if she could engage teenagers by texting in order to help lower their hemoglobin A1C levels, and it worked.
These sessions stimulated me to think about the disruption in medicine. I was impressed with Mayo Clinic embracing this change. Health care delivery is transforming very rapidly, and I think part of this technology that allows social interactions is going to help to create better quality, and down the road, is going to make a better system that is higher value and lower cost, even with spending more on technology.
“It's going to take a while to figure it out. It's not going to work automatically, it's going to have to be hypothesis-driven, and we are going to have to come up with a whole funding mechanism for doing these things.”
“Heme/Oncologist. Cancer Research. Interests: Myeloma, Lymphoma, Leukemia, Social media, #mHealth. Advise(d): BestDrs, Doximity, HealthTap.”
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#10 in a Continuing Series
Previous Oncology Social Media Profiles can be found in this Collection on the OT website: http://bit.ly/OT-OncologySocialMediaProfiles