Hashtags help organize online conversations about cancer care, research

Reuters Health Information: Hashtags help organize online conversations about cancer care, research

Hashtags help organize online conversations about cancer care, research

Last Updated: 2015-11-12

By Rob Goodier

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An easy way to find conversation about breast cancer research on Twitter is to search #bcsm. It stands for "breast cancer social media" and it's one of the most popular disease-specific tags on tweets about cancer from conferences, live chats and general conversation.

Inspired by that success, a team of researchers developed 23 hashtags specific to types of cancer, adding them to the already popular #bcsm, and #btsm, which is for brain tumor tweets.

As a whole, the system has caught on.

Tweets bearing one of the 25 hashtags increased from fewer than 14,000 in the third quarter of 2011 to more than 87,000 in the second quarter of 2015, according to a research letter published online November 5 in JAMA Oncology.

"The cancer tag ontology has grown for two main reasons: strong online relationships and lucky timing," lead author Dr. Matthew Katz from Lowell General Hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health by email.

"We were already very involved in social media communities and listened to feedback before publishing the tags in November 2013, when there was a critical mass of interested people and organizations looking to connect. It was a good idea shared and developed with the right people at the right time," he said.

All 25 of the hashtags, plus two more not included in the study, are listed at Symplur, a healthcare hashtag tracking tool. (Here: http://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/ontology/cancer/)

From 2011 to 2015, more than 760,000 tweets from more than 117,000 Twitter accounts bore one of the 25 hashtags. The increase in that time was 13% per quarter.

But if the system caught on, its success was uneven. The most popular hashtags were #bcsm, with 323,720 tweets, and #lcsm, which stands for "lung cancer social media," with 143,089 tweets.

After mid-2013, five tags accounted for 92% of the activity of all 25 tags. They were also ones that were used in live chats, including #ayacsm (adolescent and young adult cancer), #gyncsm (gynecologic cancer), #lcsm, #mmsm (multiple myeloma), and #pancsm (pancreatic cancer).

"I was most excited about the potential to create an active dynamic space for 'bridging' conversations, a space to help attract healthcare professionals to the powerful conversations taking space in social media," said co-author Patricia Anderson, an emerging technologies informationist at the Alfred Taubman Medical Library, University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

"The engaged patient community, the Society for Participatory Medicine, the e-patient movement, the quantified selfers . . . these communities which are nominally outside of traditional healthcare are increasingly having dramatic impacts on shaping the future directions of healthcare," she told Reuters Health by email.

Attracting the right people to the conversation has apparently worked. A look at the top 100 tweeters finds that most of them are patients (34%), physicians (14%), and other caregivers and advocates (17%), according to the research.

For the latest in this experiment, find Dr. Katz on Twitter at @SubAtomicDoc, Anderson at @pfanderson, and one of their prolifically tweeting collaborators, Dr. Michael Thompson at the Aurora Research Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at @mtmdphd.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1Y6dJlW

JAMA Oncol 2015.

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