Oncologists and Social Media: An Interview With Mike Thompson, MD, PhD

In advance of the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting, Targeted Healthcare spoke with Mike Thompson, MD, PhD, about the use of social media in the field of oncology.


Mike Thompson, MD, PhD

Targeted Healthcare: How do you use Twitter?

How often do you use Twitter?

What are you looking for when you are on Twitter? Do you interact with patients on Twitter?

In advance of the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting (#ASCO13),Targeted Healthcare(@TargetedHC) spoke with Mike Thompson, MD, PhD, about the use of social media in the field of oncology. Thompson is a hematologist/oncologist, member of ASCO (@ASCO) and ASH (@ASH_hematology), clinical and translational cancer researcher, and board member at Stillwaters Cancer Support Services (@Stillwatersctr) in southeastern Wisconsin. Thompson has had a Twitter account (@mtmdphd) since 2010.It depends on where I am. When I’m reading articles or creating content, I’m usually on the computer; it’s just easier to see more. When I’m tweeting at meetings, I’m usually using either my phone, or an iPad with a keyboard. It all depends on where I am and the amount of time I have.I check Twitter throughout the day and I’ll watch for interesting things to come up. Often times, if I have a few minutes and it’s difficult to get any big tasks done, I’ll check into Twitter and see what’s going on. I don’t usually set aside a block of time just for Twitter, I go by the day and if I’m really busy I get on it less. If I have something to share, then I will spend a little more time on it.I’ve never been approached by one of my patients on Twitter, or other social media. I think most physicians would advocate trying to stay away from that, or move the discussion to a nonpublic realm.

Do you know of any oncologists that do interact with patients? Or go to Twitter to see how they’re patients are doing? Or to see what other patients around the world are thinking? Or is that something that you think no oncologists do?

Is Twitter a valuable tool for an oncologist?

I’m usually looking through thought leaders that aggregate content. I will look atThe New England Journal of Medicineor ASCO to stay up to date in my field and either just read an article, comment on it, or retweet (RT) it. The level of engagement depends on how much I’m interested in it. If it’s just something I read, that’s passive. If it’s something I retweet, that’s minimal engagement. If it’s something I’ve created or replied to, I’m interacting with people.If a patient starts asking specific questions, I will sometimes direct them towards a specific resource. It’s very difficult in the format of Twitter to provide enough information with a high degree of accuracy. I think there are a variety of formats that can work well. For instance, TweetChats with patients discussing issues and doctors commenting is a great format — focused, time limited, and with “rules” often provided up front.For me, Twitter is faster than waiting for a journal like theJournal of Clinical Oncology,Journal of Oncology Practice, orThe New England Journal of Medicine. By the time I get the print journal, I’ve usually caught things on Twitter a week or more before. Even when something comes up through email that’s new, like an FDA approval, or a new cancer research finding, I’ve usually found it first on Twitter. It’s a way to get information before others and it gives me time to think about things before my patients ask about it.

Other oncologists use it as a way to promote their institution, or talk about their area of cancer specialization. Twitter presence is a great way to become known as a thought leader and interact with other oncologists in your area.

At meetings, with Twitter, I can see something, comment on it, and get others’ take on things in real time.

Are there any other social networks that you think are valuable to oncologists?

If I’m not at a meeting, but I’m following along on Twitter, I don’t get everything out of the meeting and I’m not networking with colleagues in person, but I can get a lot of content out of it and can ask questions of people there. I think it’s a really valuable way to use Twitter.Pinterest to me is a very interesting site that I think is underutilized. The demographic of Pinterest is mainly women, and if we look at who drives healthcare utilization for families, it’s mainly the women. I think it’s an underutilized high-impact way of trying to get information out to a potentially different demographic.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

NOTE: Dr. Thompson has commented in more detail in “Pinterest for Medicine & Oncology: An Opportunity” inan ASCO Connection blog post.I think social media is a form of media that offers different areas of opportunity for different individuals. It may not be for everyone, but I think it’s something that oncologists can dip their toes into and see what it’s about. I think the best way to get started is to find a mentor, someone who is already using social media, and have them show you. I think people would be surprised at how easy it is to get set up and start doing things. I’d like to see more oncologists on social media.

I’d also like to thank the countless mentors I’ve had along the way including but not limited to Michael Fisch, MD, MPH (@fischMD), Robert S. Miller, MD (@rsm2800), Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP (@drdonsdizon), and Anas Younes, MD (@DrAnasYounes