Twitter, the ideal way for sharing health research

Twitter, the ideal way for sharing health research

Presently, specialists more often get discrete, intelligent and thought provoking questions from patients. The notion that your physician knows it all is changing rapidly. This is true in every medical specialty.

This writer saw the great embarrassment of a child specialist in a premier medical centre in Kerala when confronted by an excited parent. Some medicine prescribed by the physician for epilepsy for his child has some undesirable side effects. When questioned, the specialist failed to list them. His explanation that every drug for epilepsy has side effects did not pacify the irritated parent who had many pages of internet output from choicest references with him.

With the universal access of information in the internet, specialists have to keep abreast with new developments besides getting educated by medical representatives.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) stated that using Twitter can help physicians be better prepared to answer questions from their patients. In a study presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at San Jose, California  the researchers found that more health care professionals are embracing social media.

“Many people go online for health information, but little research has been done on who is participating in these discussions or what is being shared,” says Julie Robillard, lead author and neurology professor at UBC’s National Core for Neuroethics and Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

The study by Robillard and fourth-year psychology student Emanuel Cabral lasted six months. They monitored conversations surrounding stem cell research related to spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease on Twitter. According to them roughly 25 per cent of the tweets about spinal cord injury and 15 per cent of the tweets about Parkinson’s disease were from health care professionals.

The study found that most tweets were about research findings, particularly the ones perceived as medical breakthroughs. Interestingly, the most shared content were links to research reports.

The study also found the users tweeting about spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease differed. Users who tweeted about spinal cord injury talked about clinical trials, while users who tweet about Parkinson’s disease mostly talked about new tools or methods being developed to conduct research.

Less than five per cent of the tweets spoke out against stem cell research, which surprised the researchers.

“We expected to see debate on stem cell controversy,” says Robillard. “But people are sharing ideas of hope and expectations much more than anything else.”

Robillard believes social media can help physicians become more aware of what their patients are consuming about scientific research beyond traditional media. This could help temper patients’ expectations about potential treatments. Specialists’ use of Twitter will be more purposeful and may satisfy all stakeholders.


About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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2 Responses to Twitter, the ideal way for sharing health research

  1. Radionuclide FDG has to be transported by air and injected for PET scan to diagnose cancer cell activity. This prevents the patients from remote area to avail the benefits of advanced cancer treatment. What is your opinion on feasibility of portable particle accelerator mentioned at CERN site?


    • It seems that the engineers and scientists associated with the design and fabrication of a mini linac is in the right track.However, they have to face formidable challenges before achieving any notable success.Presently, commercially available medical cyclotrons are capable of handling the issues. If one can design and fabricate cheaper linacs capable of producing PET isotopes at site, it will be a dream come true.Hospitals in Pune are now transporting PET isotopes from Mumbai. We cannot rule out dramatic developments! With the availability cell phone, are we not now carrying a telephone exchange in our pocket?


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