January 2019 Edition Vol.12, Issue 1

Hematologists Use Social Media to Up their Game

By Lynne Lederman, PhD

At the now-annual special interest session on social media at this year’s American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, panelists shared insights on how hematologists could further their careers by using social media to educate, improve clinical trial accrual, and benefit their patients.

Session chair Aaron T. Gerds, MD, MS, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, said, “ASH has recognized the value that social media can have for a hematologist, and wants to help get people involved. So, we have made a set of instructional videos to help.”1

Using social media to educate

Teresa Chan, MD, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, an emergency physician, discussed using social media to educate. She guest blogs, engages with, or edits a variety of emergency medicine-related sites. She suggests social media to “make sure that the people around you, whether that’s nurses, collaborators, patient advocate groups, and patients actually get a chance to engage in some of the content you want them to consume.”

Dr. Chan suggested using social media for digital scholarship, e.g., by reproducing workshops or lectures for sites like MedEdPORTAL, which is peer-reviewed and indexed on PubMed.2 She mentioned several sites the emergency medicine community uses, including one for content that program directors can use to disseminate information to trainees who can practice board exam questions.3

Dr. Chan said the challenge is to think how to get involved and sponsor other people who are interested in advocating and sharing their knowledge online. “In the age of fake news, we need more brilliant people like yourselves to get out there and combat that fakeness,” she said.

She pointed to the “this is our lane” campaign, which went viral after physicians and other healthcare providers posted tweets about their experiences in treating victims of gun violence when they responded to the National Rifle Association’s tweet, “someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”4

Estimating over 500 million impressions in response to that single tweet, Dr. Chan said engaging with clinician partners to develop materials is one way to combat mistruth and fake news.

Improving medical practices with social media

Ruben A. Mesa, MD, FACP, Mays Cancer Center at UT Health and MD Anderson, San Antonio, Texas, discussed how social media helped his career and practice as a hematologist.

“I like the Twitter format quite a bit,” he said. He tweets to connect people with some form of content. For example, at each ASH meeting he creates a YouTube video at a patient level of updates relevant to them and that they might care about, such as new trials, results, or tests.

He creates the video, then tweets about it, so people who follow him know it’s out there and they can directly link to it, he said. He treats myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), a relatively rare group of diseases, and says he rarely sees new patients who haven’t seen his videos and gives that as part of the reason they come to see him. Patients report the videos leave them with the impression he seems to care and understand their disease.

Dr. Mesa noted that social media can be very powerful when recruiting patients with rare conditions. On Twitter, the limited number of characters means linking to another site and that is key, e.g., a web page that describes the study, provides recruiting sites, and explains eligibility criteria in patient-friendly terms.

Dr. Mesa finds the video format as it relates to clinical trial recruitment to be much more powerful than just a web site. It’s somebody sitting down and actually talking about why are they are doing a study, what sort of patients they’re trying to help, what patients can expect during the study, and if the therapy is helpful what to expect. “That makes it much more real, particularly if it’s a rare patient population who may need to travel to centers to participate,” he said.

His group had 400 patients try to register for a yoga-based study for patients with MPN in less than a week. The group also accrued 1800 patients in 6 days through a social media survey on fatigue in MPN. He noted that all the materials put on social media, as well as the studies, were IRB-approved with patient consent.

How social media can advance your career

Amber Yates, MD, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas, a pediatric hematologist treating sickle cell anemia, said her practice has shaped the way she approaches social media. “It’s a huge part of our training to advocate for patients,” she said. Like Dr. Chan, Dr. Yates said that physicians have the potential to counter medical misinformation on social media platforms by putting out better information that may eventually work its way up to the top of searches.

She tweets links to articles she has written and to blogs on her hospital-based web site. She has gained enough traction with the sickle cell community that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has asked her to help them connect their Cure Sickle Cell Initiative to the community.

Dr. Yates has used Twitter for advocacy, e.g., contacting her senators to support the recently passed Sickle Cell Disease and Other Heritable Blood Disorders Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act (S. 2465), which awaits presidential signature. The Act reauthorizes sickle cell disease (SCD) prevention and treatment grants awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, among other initiatives.

Twitter has also provided a forum for Dr. Yates to provide advocacy for her patients by educating providers to not refer to patients with sickle cell disease as “sicklers,” a term with negative connotations for patients. “It provided a nice place for a really great conversation for a healthcare professional who had no idea that this was a problem,” Dr. Yates said.

Dr. Yates also said that since major medical journals tweet their tables of contents, she follows them to find specialized articles. If she misses an article, she is sure to hear about it via her followers.

Drs. Chan, Mesa, and Yates said that although the impact of social media is not being considered for academic appointments and promotions, the time may come where it will be considered. For now, Dr. Yates said that as a clinician educator who doesn’t do research, run a lab, or conduct clinical trials, that giving an ASH presentation about social media is an example of how it has changed her career. “That’s the biggest influence it’s had,” she said.


    1. How I Tweet video topics include getting started on twitter, how to make the most out of your twitter account, and frequently asked questions #FAQ. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4C8vBKsIWMoriO_SJe8i1snCTKan_rMK
    2. MedEdPORTAL A peer-reviewed, open-access journal that promotes educational scholarship and dissemination of teaching and assessment resources in the health professions. https://www.mededportal.org/
    3. Academic life in emergency medicine learning management system (ALiEMU). https://www.aliemu.com/about/
    4. Ranney ML, Betz ME, Dark C. #ThisIsOurLane—firearm safety as health care’s highway. New Engl J Med. December 5, 2018. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1815462.

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