Associate Director, Scientific Engagement and Digital Communications
Director, Medical Information and Education
Executive Medical Director, Medical Oncology and Associate Professor
MD Anderson Cancer Center
The shift toward digital engagement has continued to gain momentum in recent years, and even more so since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Digital Opinion Leader video podcast features insights on the impact of social media on the oncology community, including perspectives on its significance as a channel for data dissemination, and more. Watch the podcast below to learn more from leaders in the field.
Ronak: Thank you for joining our video podcast where we will be discussing the impact of social media on oncology community and how we’re seeing it as a channel for data dissemination and much more. My name is Ronak Patel. And I’m the Associate Director for Scientific Engagement and Digital Communications at Eisai
Adelle: And I’m Adelle Berezinsky, I’m the director of medical information and medical education for Eisai’s Oncology Medical Affairs Group.
Ronak: And today, we have the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Vivek Subbiah, who is the Executive Medical Director in the Department of Medical Oncology Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and also an Associate Professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Welcome, Dr. Subbiah, and thank you for taking the time to discuss hot topic on social media and the oncology community.
Dr. Subbiah: It’s my pleasure and honor to share my opinion about this very important topic.
Adelle: And thank you Dr. Subbiah, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on emerging trends among oncology stakeholders.
Ronak: To get our conversation started, what we really wanted to hear about and we’d love to begin with how it all started. How did you get involved in social media, specifically through that medical oncologist lens?
Dr. Subbiah: So the first reason was to be, first, the consumer. To connect, to learn the latest and greatest in medical oncology research. It has improved the engagement of several of medical oncologists who are in the frontline doing research and I think my colleagues and I have used this platform mainly for research dissemination. Most importantly, what I think my top reason for engaging in social media platforms is it breaks open silos in academia. There is more engagement across diverse disciplines, across diverse countries, across diverse investigators between academia, between the community oncologists, between pharma. So, it is important for me to engage in social media to have another outlet for disseminating research.
Ronak: Breaking those silos are really important and we’re seeing it in conferences. You’re seeing physicians all across the world engaging with each other through Twitter, through these social media platforms and it’s really going back to that theme of breaking those silos. Thank you for sharing.
Adelle: Speaking of breaking silos and engagement, when we think of social media, one thing that comes to mind is that all of this information is in the public domain and people are reading your posts. With that in mind, how does social media impact, affect, or play a role in your practice?
Dr. Subbiah: In the era of very rapid new cycle, what we inform our colleagues, the public, and the general audience is important. This has the potential to advance biomedical research and collaboration. Because not many people have access to all the journals. By allowing fellow researchers and physicians to connect and share about new treatments, I think more of us are aware of what is going on in our own discipline and other disciplines in a quick way and that’s how I use the social media in my clinical research and practice.
Adelle: What do you think social media could do, especially for education of patients and outreach to patients as well as education opportunities for fellows and residents?
Dr. Subbiah: Twitter, specifically out of all the social media channels, provides a promising and novel avenue for exploring how cancer patients and their families conceptualize and communicate about their health and may have potential for much needed clinical trial recruitment. This clinical trial recruitment thing is still, I feel personally, a hugely untapped area. Right now, we know that numerous cancer centers and care organizations, including the NCI actively use Twitter as a platform for health promotion, health education, but clearly we don’t have many studies that examine the existing cancer communications on Twitter that provides useful information about clinical trials. This potential area for patient recruitment remains largely untapped and I think we need to think about innovative ways post pandemic to think about how we can effectively engage patients, their caregivers and patient advocates to educate more about actively enrolling in clinical trials, especially for rare diseases and specific biomarker-driven diseases. The second part of the question was resident and fellow education. So I would say residents and fellows can benefit by engaging in social media, reaching out for what you are mentioning with faculty across other institutions and getting engaged in virtual general clubs, virtual grand rounds and virtual molecular tumor boards.
Adelle: Looking at this emergence of digital opinion leaders and now with many professional societies starting to identify top voices to effectively disseminate data just like you were talking about, How do you think the sphere of influence of any individual digital opinion leader could impact practice patterns?
Dr. Subbiah: As you all know, Twitter is like any other social media; it can be a double-edged sword and there are so many misconceptions in the society. Let me quote vaccine hesitancy, for instance. There are loud voices. That is why I feel that physicians and scientists should engage in social media--so that the physician and scientist community should actively put out real world, positive data, clinical trial data, clinical journal data so that these can address, to an extent, the misconceptions in the general public. I think this is a sphere of influence that a digital opinion leader can provide in terms of practice patterns in the community.
Ronak: Coming off of that question, what would be your take home message to your followers and what are your expectations to your followers when they read your post?
Dr. Subbiah: That’s a great question. Twitter can help be in front of the latest treatment news in a fast-moving field and facilitate dialog with several colleagues. The first one is be a good listener, right? But in this case, they’re not listening, they’re consuming, so in this case I would say be a good consumer. Scroll and figure out who you want to follow and who you don’t want to follow. Follow other people of interest and share their content to build rapport and relationships on social. Follow and engage with those who are sharing and talking about your papers. You can do this by liking or replying to their posts or even retweeting them. After your listening or in the case of your consuming, start to follow and create connections that are aligned with your focus with other scientists and physicians. Social media isn’t just about you or your brand. It is about your audience. It is about educating your audience, so it’s an important duty for us to provide valuable content in the social media space as well. Another important thing is we need to promote our colleagues, our researchers, rising stars who need more attention in the society.
Adelle: What, in your opinion, are some of the caveats of social media engagement?
Dr. Subbiah: I think as physicians and from practicing from many medical centers, when patients directly reach out to us for any direct medical advice, I think it’s hard for us to provide medical advice just on the social media platform. I don’t think it would be the proper thing to do because we need to go through the history and it has to be in the context of physician/patient communication. I think beyond giving specific treatment advice, I think that’s one of the caveats of social media engagement, I think general broad-based advice about a particular drug is welcome.
Adelle: Do you have any thoughts for the digital opinion leaders, specifically when it comes to commenting or expressing their opinions or responding to different opinions? Any best practices that you can think of in those avenues within the social media space?
Dr. Subbiah: Absolutely. As alluded to earlier, again, first be a good listener and, second, if you publish research papers, share them with the public. You promote your own paper and you promote your colleagues’ paper on Twitter and follow the alpha-metric score. Amplify important conference appearances. Importantly, be of social value to the community. As oncologists or digital opinion leaders, you bring an important part to the society in educating not just colleagues, but the general public about misconceptions, about the latest and greatest in research. So, I would say we all have to be of value.
Ronak: Honestly, I’ve been noticing many fellows along with physicians coming out with these really well written and thorough – what do they call – tweetorials. Tweetorials, for our viewers, are defined as a collection of threaded tweets around a specific topic of interest aimed at teaching. Any thoughts on this emerging trend of tweetorials?
Dr. Subbiah: I think tweetorials give an at a glance educational tool in social media. Again, what is being published in journals in, say, 6,000 words can be condensed to less than 100-200 words with nice, visually appealing slides as a part of tweetorials. People may not have the time to go over general articles or even sometimes they may not subscribe to journals and also may not even attend conferences, but it is important for the tweetorials to be showcased as slides that have a larger dissemination of research or journal articles. I think tweetorials are welcome.
Ronak: Yeah and we’re seeing the impact that it’s having and the amount of conversations that comes about. I feel like that’s where the real heart of the discussion comes and you end up having a journal club like you were talking about. It becomes a cross-collaborative effort through multiple institutions through opinions that could differ and could resonate with one another. So, I agree. Tweetorials are an interesting concept and we hope to see more from the physicians and just the oncology community in itself.
Adelle: That’s a great point and the discussions that we are seeing on these Tweetorials are extremely interesting as well. Would you advise your peers to engage in or approach data review or these discussion threads?
Dr. Subbiah: Absolutely. I think it’s good to have real time discussions on positive and negative data because, again, as you know when general articles are published, they are peer reviewed. Again, there are three to four to five peer reviewers that can help in enhancing the papers and articles, but when we put these tweetorials in public, people are brilliant, people are smart. They can come up with different views and different aspects, and different comments and reviews and some of the positive comments or some of the critical comments can improve or enhance the next research project.
Ronak: One of the areas we would love to get your thoughts on is around the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to ask your opinion about how has the pandemic changed engagement on social media for you and maybe even around congresses?
Dr. Subbiah: The role of social media platforms, mainly Twitter, for dissemination of critical scientific research findings increased significantly during the pandemic. This recognition is important. It’s brought a challenge and an opportunity given the critical importance of effectively sharing data. Articles showed that articles on COVID-19 had significantly higher Tweet rates than citation rates, highlighting the importance of social media and rapidly expanding the research period. This change has also opened avenues for conducting continuing medical education and disease-focused meetings at a low cost with decreased carbon footprint and increased participation. And we look forward that this will continue in a hybrid manner, even post pandemic.
Adelle: And they say necessity is the mother of invention and, like you said, the circumstances we’ve been in have definitely been a catalyst to a lot of advancements, especially in the digital space. What role do you think social media will continue to play in the post COVID era, and especially among the oncology community?
Dr. Subbiah: Social media communication is here to stay, so it can be Twitter today and, in the AACR, we saw Clubhouse emerge as another platform for the hallway conversations or the after meeting, happy hour discussions, etc. One of the greatest things to come out of this pandemic, hopefully which will be here to stay, is the ESMO Plenary session. The ESMO Plenary session are an example of a major society adopting the virtual platforms. These are monthly presentations of the latest, greatest and original scientific data from randomized Phase III studies in oncology or from Phase II players, which demonstrate remarkable therapeutic benefit. Previously, such presentations were waiting for major meetings to happen maybe once, twice or three times a year, but given the tight timelines that one has to rapidly disseminate for positive research or negative research, I think a major society opening up a platform every month, I think, is welcome.
Adelle: Thank you for sharing your perspectives on the future. We certainly hope that real time data dissemination will continue benefitting world physicians as well as patients.
Ronak: Yeah, I agree. There’s going to be a lot more to come and we’re excited to be part of the journey and taking steps forward to help with all these different areas, specifically around education on a pharmaceutical standpoint, but kind of just to close our discussion out, I really wanted to ask a final question focusing on the things we’ve already discussed – education and educating that community. The question is, what are some collaboration avenues for digital opinion leaders, for thought leaders like yourself with pharmaceutical industry for an education purpose?
Dr. Subbiah: Three things. Reaching patients, especially with rare diseases. Reaching the PIs, reaching principal investigators. Again, there are so many trial sites and I think it’s important for pharma also to know who these PIs are if they are in major academic institutions or with a smaller institution or in community or rural areas. I think it’s important to reach PAs via social media as well. Number three is reaching out to researchers in other fields for collaboration and how do we implement this education? In my personal opinion, implementing any educational program is better than the current complete lack of an education program. This is a small step in the right direction, but this is only a start. Again, ultimately, Twitter and all social media share the common goal of changing the perception of oncology and medicine to something more accessible to allow patients and their caregivers to understand their conditions and make informed decisions. The use of social media and Twitter in healthcare has the potential to allow patients to be more informed about their own health and we must balance accessibility with misinformation.
Adelle: Dr. Subbiah, we really would like to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this unique topic and we do feel that your perspectives will resonate and add value among a lot of the digital opinion leaders whether they are established or emerging users.