Clinical Oncology in the 21st Century: Reflections on how Healthcare Providers Should Manage Their Public Personas on Social Media

Don S. Dizon, MD, and Claire H. Johnston
Published: Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Dr. Don Dizon

Don S. Dizon, MD


There is an ever-growing variety of social media platforms, which, depending on the reader, can be either exciting or not. For the enthusiastic early adopter, these channels offer a new experience and the chance to broaden social and professional circles. For others, the growth of social media is overwhelming, and with each new medium, they may become even less willing to explore any of them.

However, it is important that clinicians engage with social media primarily because we risk our reputations by not knowing what is being said, shared, and discussed about us online. In this article we will expand on these points and provide steps to help harness the Web and manage your online public persona.

Patients Are Online and They Want Information About You

The Internet has become a staple of society, both on a local and a global scale. It has resulted in the formation of online platforms and communities, and has changed the ways we can interact with others. By some reports, there are almost 1.3 billion people on Facebook1 and 255 million monthly active users on Twitter.2 Estimates are that 35% of adults in the United States have gone online to diagnose a health condition,3 and other data suggest that patients might be choosing their healthcare providers based on online peer reviews.4 As a testament to this, online physician rating sites are widely available and appear to be frequently utilized.

The reach of social media extends to clinicians as well. In the 2014 American Medical Association Insurance’s survey of over 4000 US physicians, social media usage was noted by 79% of those under age 40, 62% of those age 40 to 59, and 53% of those age 60 to 69.5 Some physicians have recognized the shift from traditional models of information seeking and sharing, and actively discuss healthcare issues in a public way. Physician-led blogs such as Kevin MD ( and 33 Charts ( publicly discuss issues that affect those that work within healthcare.

In the oncology space, online blogs also have gained in popularity. Connection (connection.asco. org), the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) forum for the exchange of views on topical issues in the field of oncology, was recognized for its relevance and credibility with a 2014 Award for Publication Excellence (APEX) for site content. The blog authors write frankly about issues relating to oncology practice. Readers are invited to comment on the public blog posts, which often leads to authors answering questions directly from the reading public.

Figure. Curate Your Online Reputation

Curate Your Online Reputation

In recognition of these shifts in information gathering and sharing both amongst clinicians and the wider public, as well as the evolving working relationship between clinician and patient, we will suggest ways to cultivate and monitor your online persona and methods to approach using social media in your daily life.

These issues are relevant to oncology because information seeking has been changed by widespread access to the Internet. Indeed, some data show that among those who search for cancer information, 55% turn to the Internet as their initial source; only 25% went to their healthcare provider first.6

However,clinicians must not assume that all information that’s available is accurate. In today’s Internet culture, anyone can write, post, or tweet an article, opinion, or otherwise. This access to “unfiltered” information can be misleading to patients, or even dangerous. A recent example concerned the dissemination of cancer information reported from “John” Hopkins University,7 which necessitated a point-by-point vigorous defense by the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University with input from its faculty.

Protecting Your Online Reputation: The Digital Footprint and Beyond

The digital footprint is the track that remains online after you have engaged in any activities on the Web. Conceptually, it is integral to your online reputation.8 It has both a passive and an active component, and understanding both is important.

View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 18th Annual International Lung Cancer Congress®Oct 31, 20181.5
Provider and Caregiver Connection™: Addressing Patient Concerns While Managing Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and VomitingOct 31, 20182.0
Publication Bottom Border
Border Publication