Pharma gets social: Three online HCP behaviour trends from 2015

Daniel Ghinn reviews the year and highlights how healthcare professionals have been using social media to share research, collaborate around congresses and develop specialised communities.

As 2015 draws to a close, I’ve been looking back at what we have learned through the year about social media and healthcare. I’ve written lots in this monthly column about how healthcare companies are engaging stakeholders and learning from their behaviours.

One of the significant growth areas of 2015 has been the further development of digital engagement among healthcare professionals (HCPs), who have continued to develop powerful virtual networks for peer learning in public social media. Here are three kinds of online HCP activity that stand out to me.

1. Sharing clinical research

Social media has become increasingly important for the publication and review of clinical research. ResearchGate, a network for researchers co-founded in 2008 by two physicians and a computer scientist, claims to connect 8 million researchers who are able to read the latest publications, discuss their own work with other specialists, and collaborate with colleagues. The network is often cited in other social media channels – on Twitter, ResearchGate is among the most-shared resources by HCPs.

Also widely shared by HCPs online is content from medical journal The BMJ. The BMJ’s ‘rapid response’ feature continues to attract engagement among HCPs reviewing and commenting on published research. Whilst the idea of HCPs commenting on clinical research online was not new in 2015, there is evidence that some research leads have been playing a more proactive role in sharing and discussing their own research using social media.

2. Collaboration around medical congress meetings

This year has seen the role of social media continue to grow during medical congress meetings, as increasing numbers of HCPs have engaged, contributed and discussed congress content online.

In May, Henry Woo, urologist and Associate Professor at Sydney Adventist Hospital, presented a study on Twitter in urology conferences at the American Urological Association’s 2015 Annual Meeting. He concluded that the use of Twitter at medical conferences was “unlikely to go away anytime soon”, and that the urological community led the way among surgical speciality communities.

In December, analysis by MDigitalLife of the growth in online conversation around the American Society of Hematology (ASH) congress meetings over recent years showed a year-on-year doubling of social media activity, with HCPs having the most to say in the online conversation.

Earlier in the year, analysis of 78,000 social media posts during the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2015 Annual Meeting illustrated how more than one third of all social media content posted during the meeting originated from outside of the meeting itself, while one third of HCPs engaged in the online conversation around the congress were usually located outside the US.

3. Communities of practice

Finally, the most exciting trend in public social networking among healthcare professionals is, arguably, the development of specialised communities of practice. For several years, doctors and other HCPs have been using Twitter hashtags to discuss medical education and clinical practice. Movements such as #FOAMed – Free Open Access Medical Education – have brought together HCPs all over the world to support each other and develop new ideas.

2015, however, saw significant developments in the use of hashtags by HCPs. With so many varied interests among the thousands of HCPs taking part in general practice conversations, specialised sub-communities started to develop.

In some speciality areas, HCPs have formed or joined communities of practice with specific areas of focus around therapy areas. One such community which hosts a regular tweet chat is #btsm – Brain Tumour Social Media Chat – founded in 2012 by Liz Salmi, a brain cancer patient who is healthcare communication strategist for Coalition for Compassionate Care of California. This is now a thriving online community including HCPs, one of whom is neuro-oncologist Ashley Sumrall.

Another example is the wecommunities HCP network formed in the UK. The community, which initially connected broad groups of HCPs by their roles such as #wenurses and #wepharmacists, now includes numerous additional hashtag-based virtual networks such as #weparamedics, #wemidwives and #weAHPs (Allied Health Professionals). As the ‘we’ movement has developed momentum as a network of HCPs connected by their roles and social media, the community has made plans for a ‘real life’ gathering to take place in 2016.

What next?

These examples illustrate how HCPs are developing their own innovative ways to connect and collaborate online using public social media as part of a rich and diverse community. But, as Richard Smith, former editor of The BMJ, said in a BMJ interview earlier this year, “We’re still a long way off fully exploiting the web in the distribution of science.”

The opportunities for HCPs and other health stakeholders to learn from each other keep growing. It’s an exciting time to be engaging health stakeholders online, and I anticipate that there is much more to come.

About the author:

Daniel Ghinn has been studying the digital behaviours of health stakeholders since the late 1990s. He is Founder and CEO of Creation Healthcare, which provides specialised social insights to many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and inventor of Creation Pinpoint, which distils healthcare professional conversations from public social media. He tweets at @engagementstrat.

Read more from Daniel Ghinn:

Pharma gets social: 7 pharma social listening strategies