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Profiles in Oncology Social Media: Michael Fisch, MD, MPH, @fischMD

Butcher, Lola

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000424104.38617.14


At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, an institution known for its specialists, Michael Fisch, MD, MPH, is a generalist. That means he needs to keep apprised of a wide range of topics—and that makes him a fan of HootSuite, a social media management dashboard that helps him do just that. HootSuite allows users to organize various social media platforms—such as LinkedIn and Facebook—as well as Twitter, but he focuses specifically on Twitter.

“There is almost no way to miss things if you're on Twitter and you have your Twitter feeds set up right,” he said. “Basically nothing important can get by you. You are like a hockey goalie for information, and there are very few pucks that get by.”

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What does “general oncology” mean at MD Anderson?

“The department of general oncology is for settings or topic areas that cut across disease or treatment modality. For example, MD Anderson provides the outpatient and inpatient care in the county safety net hospital LBJ General Hospital in Houston. So we need faculty who are able to see a broad mix of patients in the outpatient and inpatient settings, and an academic general oncologist is a right fit there. Likewise in our regional cancer centers—our Houston-area satellites—we have oncology faculty that see a broad mix of patients in a community oncology setting.

“And then there are topic areas that cut across disease. I'm interested in pain and symptom management and health care disparities and all of supportive oncology. I edit the Journal of Supportive Oncology. I think of the general oncology space as the interstitium between the disease-specific realms.”

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How does social media help you in your work?

“My work often involves connecting the dots and, for that reason, Twitter can be really useful. There is a lot of information that I need to take in, and there are ways to use Twitter to scout it in various ways.

“Articles published in general medical journals often matter to me because I need to know about developments in quality improvement, patient-physician communication, and various issues outside of cancer that should be applied to cancer care. Plus, I want to read a whole bunch of different cancer journals and all the various supportive care journals; that information is always relevant.

“Twitter is like a Bayesian form of information-gathering where the universe of information is the universe of things that other people are noticing and drawing your attention towards. The best information gets amplified through re-tweets and other comments. And the least important information is most likely to dissipate, so I am less likely to get distracted by it. That's what attracts me to Twitter.”

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When you are tracking a broad range of topics, how do you avoid information overload?

“I use HootSuite to organize tweets so it is more manageable to see the things I want to see.

“HootSuite (like another dashboard program called TweetDeck) lets me organize tweets by tabs and then into streams. For example, I have one tab labeled Minority Health, and several streams of tweets within that tab.

“A colleague of mine, Lynne Nguyen, is the director of the minority women's clinical trial recruitment program at MD Anderson and she tweets as @disparityreport. She shares interesting information so I have one lane for just her tweets. I also have one lane for @minorityhealth, which is the government site from the Office of Minority Health. And I have one for any tweets that have the terms “health disparities” or “minority health” in the text of the tweets. So when I go to that tab, I can see all three of those lanes at once. And there are various interesting things that come through that grouping of tweets.

“If I want to see what's happening in hospice and palliative medicine, I have a tab labeled HPM that includes tweets marked by #hpm—that is the hashtag that the American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine members generally use. Another stream is for #palliative or #endoflife or #hospice. That HPM tab also includes a stream from Diane Meier, MD, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, a key leader in the field, who curates really good information.

“I have a tab for NCI government sites. And I have a tab for tweets from different hospitals—Mayo, Stanford, and other academic hospitals that send out press releases about things that are happening in their own cancer centers.

“I have a tab for the MD Anderson faculty because there are a fair number of my own faculty colleagues who are tweeting. There is not going to be some big issue in cancer care or a game-changing New England Journal article that I am going to miss, because this set of people will catch it.

“And I have a tab for various MD Anderson administrative departments, so I know what's going on. And I also look for the keywords MDAnderson or MDACC—that is very interesting because it gives me a sense of what other people are saying about our institution, good or bad. I am keenly interested in patients tweeting about their experience and inspirations.”

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Are you an active tweeter yourself?

“I just checked HootSuite, which tells me I started on Feb. 24, 2011, I have approximately 3,000 followers and I have tweeted about 2,000 times. I am a consistent, low-volume tweeter. I am more interested in what I am getting out of Twitter rather than using it for my own tweets.

“There are about 20 faculty in my department, and I have presented at faculty meetings about how to do this. Some people like it, and some don't. Those faculty who do use Twitter are so useful to me. For example, Mark Lewis (@marklewisMD) in my department points out some great articles and information. There was a recent New England Journal article that I had skimmed past because the title referred to the common cold, so I did not pay attention to it. But Mark tweeted the link and indicated that it was an excellent essay about compassion. So then I read it, and it was really terrific. If Mark had not tweeted that, I would not have benefitted from what he had read and considered worthwhile.”

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How much time do you spend checking Twitter?

“All of us in oncology are extremely busy. I try not to get distracted during any blocks of time that are useable to accomplish something. I look for small fragments of time. For example, if I show up for grand rounds 10 minutes early, I can sort of scan the world of Twitter and see what people are saying while I am waiting for the speaker to be introduced.

“In just a very quick glance—literally 30 seconds—I can have a sense whether there's anything big going on. If there is ever a New York Times essay or some high-impact lay press article about anything in this realm of topics I follow, I am not going to miss it.”

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#12 in a Continuing Series

The full archive of Oncology Social Media Profiles can be found in this Collection on the OT website:

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Twitter Bio:

Department of General Oncology, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Tweets are my own: Oncology, palliative care, symptoms, side effects, survivorship, and disparities.

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MD Anderson Cancerwise Blog Bio:

Focus is on the human element; how to care for patients, applying our knowledge of science, compassion, communication and negotiating into the goals of care. In this role he oversees clinical programs like the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) General Hospital Medical Oncology Program, and the MD Anderson satellite locations.

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HootSuite How-To

HootSuite logo

HootSuite logo

  • Tab: Think of a tab as a file cabinet where columns are organized in a way that makes sense to the user.
  • Column: Allow Twitter streams to be grouped and sorted.
  • Stream: A stream could be the Twitter feed from one individual, the feeds from several individuals who frequently tweet on the same topic, or it could include all tweets that include certain keywords.
  • Hashtag: When the # symbol, called a hashtag, precedes a word, it allows for an easy search, helping people who are interested in a certain topic find tweets of interest.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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