Oncologists, Primary Care Physicians Don't Tweet

But 1 in 4 Use Social Media Daily

Nick Mulcahy

December 10, 2012

One in 4 physicians uses social media either daily or multiple times a day to scan or explore medical information, and 14% contribute daily, according to a survey of 186 oncologists and 299 primary care physicians.

However, the surveyed physicians selectively use social media.

For example, only 33 of the 485 total respondents (6.8%) use Twitter, which was dwarfed by the 252 (52%) who use online physician-only communities such as Sermo, Ozmosis, medical society membership sites, and Medscape Connect.

"What did surprise us was the heavy use of online physician-only communities," said coauthor Robert S. Miller, MD, assistant professor of oncology and oncology medical information officer at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, in a press statement. "It's possible that many physicians feel more comfortable with that type of social media, instead of a more public space like Twitter or Facebook."

This study, which sought to determine how physicians are using social media to share medical information with each other, was published online September 24 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Many more physicians are online socially on a weekly or more basis. The survey found that, at that rate, 61% of physicians scan for information and 46% contribute new information using social media.

Oncologists are online for somewhat different reasons than primary care physicians, according to the authors.

"Oncologists were more likely to be motivated to use social media out of a sense of personal innovativeness. This could, in part, be due to a characteristic of the professional culture of oncologists regarding a perceived need to be on the cutting edge of science and clinical practice," they write.

However, primary care physicians are more likely to be motivated to use social media out of a need to have access to and be influenced by peer physicians, the authors report.

They explain that they selected the 2 types of doctors to survey because "primary care fields and data-intensive specialties such as oncology bear a particularly heavy burden in consuming and managing the amount of information available to them."

The definition of social media used in the survey included networking sites such as Facebook, professional online communities, wikis, blogs, and microblogging sites such as Tumblr.

The survey was conducted a year and a half ago. More physicians are probably using social media now, said Dr. Miller, because it provides "a very valid construct for physicians to keep current."

Social media is upsetting the "social learning" apple cart to which physicians have long subscribed, the authors note. "In the past, these explorations focused on simple connections derived from training pedigree, geography, and shared memberships in medical societies or associations, and connectedness was largely episodic (e.g., annual meetings, committee work, and listservs)," they write. With social media, "connectedness" can be nearly constant, they note.

The authors sent an email invitation to a random national sample of 1695 physicians to participate in the survey. An honorarium of $50 was offered for completing the survey.

The study was funding by Pfizer. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Med Internet Res. 2012;14(5):e117. Full text