Don Dizon, MD, a specialist in breast and gynecologic cancers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, writes about twice a month for the American Society of Clinical Oncology's ASCO Connection blog, and his posts are also frequently reposted on KevinMD.com, the world's most-read health care blog, which was founded by Kevin Pho, MD.
On those occasions, Dizon is a voice of oncology to an audience far beyond the professional cancer care community or even the medical community overall. KevinMD's Twitter feed, which promotes all the blog posts on his site, has more than 67,500 followers. Information on the site notes that the blog overall has some 100,000 subscribers including also on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and RSS.
“I don't submit my posts to KevinMD and I'm not sure what process Kevin uses to identify posts for his social media site, but it's always a thrill and quite an honor to see that he has picked up a post of mine,” Dizon said.
A Deputy Editor in Oncology for UpToDate, he is also Immediate Past Chair of ASCO's Integrated Media and Technology Committee and was previously Gynecologic Cancer Track Leader for the Society's Cancer Education Committee.
What social media do you use most?
“Blogging is my major outlet. I try to blog twice a month for ASCO, and then I generally use that as a springboard for posting things on Twitter and LinkedIn. I check my Twitter feeds quite regularly, and it has become very helpful professionally to see what stories within oncology, as well as what new research, are being discussed there by the folks I follow.
“Twitter gives me an idea of the pulse of oncology, particularly for breast and gynecological and renal cancers, which I cover for UpToDate. I love that clinicians can interact through sources like Twitter with patient advocates and patients themselves to see how this research is being interpreted from various perspectives.”
What kind of response do you get?
“My blogs tend to be about the personal experience of being an oncologist as opposed to professional commentary. The feedback from ASCO Connection posts is fairly quiet. When I have a post on KevinMD.com, though, the comments tend to be longer and far more personal. This type of forum allows writers to reach beyond just the folks we are engaged with on a daily basis. Whenever readers write a comment, I think that warrants being acknowledged and I enjoy engaging with them. I want them to know that I read what they had to say.”
How do you use Twitter?
“If a physician has a question about a new trial or a new drug, it's very routine for any of us in oncology to get on the Internet and go to PubMed, for example, to find a citation or read the latest review article. Or we can do a Google search and find similar information. For me, Twitter is an extension of that. I can do a search by word and find the latest tweets on that specific topic, which I find incredibly useful.
“For example, if I am writing about a trial for an academic purpose, I might be interested in seeing how people have interpreted the trial's results. Just to take one example from the last few months, a clinical trial presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium of chemotherapy after surgical resection for a local recurrence of breast cancer—I wanted to see what other people thought about that. I could have sent around an email to colleagues across the country who happened to be thought leaders in breast cancer and, hopefully, they would have responded. The other way, though, was to post the question on Twitter and see what responses I would get. Of course, only those academic physicians on social media are going to respond, but it's not a limited discussion either. When I send a tweet, anyone can see it and respond.
“I have also set up Twitter lists according to special interests. I find that a very quick and easy way to see what colleagues and folks who are interested in the same things that I am are saying, but in a very streamlined way.”
Many people would scoff at the idea that Twitter could be a source of emotional support, but you have proven otherwise. Tell us about that.
“I had followed Merry Jennifer Markham (@DrMarkham) for several months when one of her tweets—‘If there was an oncologists’ support group, I would totally join it, especially after this week'—came up on my Twitter feed. It is interesting how so few words can stimulate so many memories. Her words reminded me of a very difficult time early in my career when caring for dying patients took an emotional toll on me. I was fortunate to be part of a very supportive team and when my colleagues saw me struggling, they stepped in to quite literally save me.
“So that tweet from Merry Jennifer resonated with me. I have never met her, but I sent a tweet that said something like ‘Hang in there.’ We exchanged a few tweets. I had the opportunity to show that someone actually read her tweet and was responding back to her. That validation is sort of like the Twitter version of taking off your shoes and just relaxing. That's really what she needed.
“That exchange stimulated an ASCO Connection post that she and I collaborated on (“Help from an Online Community,” 9/13/12) and that was picked up by KevinMD.com. That experience summarizes for me what Twitter can do. With clinical practice what it is right now, where there's barely room to breathe and we are frequently running late and there is very little room to decompress, Twitter provides a very quick opportunity to connect with someone who understands what you are going through. The validation to know that someone responded to your tweet can be very encouraging when it's been a bad day.”
What advice can you offer to oncologists who want to start using social media?
“I would say tread lightly to start. Set up a Twitter feed and then monitor it; be a follower as opposed to a poster for a while. When I joined Twitter, I added my Twitter handle to my email signature. And I got tweets from friends and colleagues who were already on Twitter who said ‘Welcome,’ and then I started to follow them and also could see who they were following. For example, I see that Bob Miller (@rsm2800) is following Oncology Times (@OncologyTimes), so I'm going to follow Oncology Times. You end up having a group of followers; you can see how they are tweeting and who they are re-tweeting, and you can start building your own follower base.
“One big caution, though, is to be very cognizant not to divulge anything that could be perceived as a breach of HIPAA. That is a really important thing to respect. Several of us from the Integrated Media and Technology committee at ASCO wrote about social media for oncologists in an article in the Journal of Oncology Practice (2012;8:e114-124).
“The other thing I would say is that Twitter success is not about the number of people following you; it's about the value of those people who you are connecting to. That's really more important than the number.”
#13 in a Continuing Series
The full archive of Oncology Social Media Profiles can be found in this Collection on the OT website: http://bit.ly/OT-OncologySocialMediaProfiles