Socializing Medicine: Oncology Joins Facebook Era

Krystal Knapp
Published: Thursday, Mar 24, 2011
Socializing MedicineThe latest cancer study. A book-signing event. A hospital mural project. These topics and more are all fodder for the Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Facebook page. And then there is the regular fl ow of comments from patients and their loved ones: “I will be starting treatment soon and I can’t wait to meet my treatment team,” “I am starting to see again that there is life after cancer,” and “Your nurses are amazing. I don’t know where I would be without this hospital.”

Fox Chase regularly updates its popular Facebook page with events and contests, the latest research findings, big hospital news, and small items such as staff awards and snow closings.

Two years ago, this presence for Fox Chase was nonexistent. The Philadelphia-based cancer center had a limited online social media reach that consisted of what 1 staff member described as a less-thanrobust YouTube channel where short videos were posted. But after hearing about the efforts of other hospitals to harness social media, leaders at Fox Chase embraced the idea of starting a Facebook page as a way to better engage the community and promote the hospital.

The result: Fox Chase now has a Facebook page that is updated several times a day and is followed by 5000 fans.

“We were very fortunate that our board members saw the value early on in having a Facebook presence,” says Lisa Bailey, Fox Chase’s director of Social Networking Communications. “The response has been amazing. The page has really helped provide people with a strong sense of community.”

Welcome to the brave new Internet social media world for healthcare commonly called Healthcare 2.0. Like Fox Chase, more and more physicians, including oncologists and other specialists, as well as medical facilities, are jumping on the social media bandwagon in order to provide reliable medical information to the public, connect with patients, and promote their services, with many larger organizations dedicating full-time staff to managing their social media presence.

Fox Chase is 1 of more than 900 hospitals that now have a social media presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, or YouTube. Two years ago, only a little more than 200 hospitals had such a presence, according to data collected by Ed Bennett, manager of Web operations at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. As of January, Bennett calculated that 906 hospitals had a total of 3087 social networking sites, with Facebook being the most popular.1

In the oncology sphere, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reached more than 2000 followers last year with its Twitter posts. The organization also uses social networking sites to connect not only with patients but also with oncologists who have distinct and specialized common interests.

Competing With “Dr Google”

The increase during the last 2 years reflects the healthcare industry’s recognition that a growing number of people are obtaining healthcare information online from what some physicians refer to as “Dr Google.”

A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project released last month found that a growing number of Americans, about 8 in 10 Internet users, or about 59% of Americans, look online for health data, with the majority of them searching for information about a specific medical problem or treatment.2

And, a recent Harris Interactive Poll found that not only are more people using the Internet to find health information, but also that the vast majority trust the advice that they find. Only 8% said they believe the information they found was unreliable.3

Doctors are spending more and more time online for professional purposes as well. In a recent Manhattan Research Survey, physicians reported spending 8 hours online for professional purposes each week in 2010 compared with 4.5 hours in 2006.4

Doctors on Twitter Topics of TweetsProceeding With Caution

Yet enthusiasm for an online presence also is mixed with concerns. In his 2010 presidential address, Douglas W. Blayney, MD, former ASCO president, highlighted both the benefi ts and challenges posed by the digital revolution.

“Let’s look at how we and ASCO are planning to cope with this information revolution to make sure the right information is available at the right time to the right person, that it informs what we do each day, and that what we learn in the care of our patients is transformed into both better treatments and more consistent quality,” he said.

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