Oncology Central

The role of social media in cancer care

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To mark our focus on social media in cancer care we recently spoke with Deanna Attai from the University of California (CA, USA) about the potential use of social media in cancer care including how oncologists can incorporate social media into their care plans as well as the opportunities and risks they should be aware of.

Could you provide us with a brief overview of your career to date?

After finishing general surgery residency in 1995 (Georgetown), I joined a group practice in the Northern Virginia area, just outside of Washington, DC. In 1999 I moved to Los Angeles to join a general surgery practice. I started a solo private practice in 2003 and in 2004 transitioned to a breast surgery practice. In 2014, I joined the faculty of the University of California (UCLA. I remain however in a community practice setting in Burbank, California.

In addition to my clinical practice, I have been actively involved in the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS), serving as a committee chair and on the board of directors and the executive committee. I served as President from 2015 – 2016. I joined Twitter in 2010, at the time I was Chair of the ASBrS Communications Committee and we were looking to develop a social media presence for the organization but I had no online experience with Twitter, Facebook or other platforms. What started as an exercise to simply learn more about how those sites worked certainly turned into something much larger, and in a relatively short period of time.

You have previously written on social media in cancer care: highlights, challenges & opportunities. In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of utilizing social media in cancer care?

There are many benefits to utilizing social media in cancer care. Probably the top for me is using Twitter specifically to help filter information. By following specific journals as well as other physicians and researchers who share common interests, my network brings relevant content to me. I find it much more efficient than my old method of reviewing multiple journals to find articles of interest. I do skim the journals that come in the mail but most of the time I find I’ve already come across the relevant articles online.

In addition, I am exposed to content I might not otherwise seek out. I do not read journals specific to colorectal cancer for example but there may be articles in those journals on a topic relevant to me as an oncology physician. I am also more likely to review articles on medical education and other topics of general interest if I come across them in my Twitter feed. You can only subscribe to so many journals, but if you are deliberate in who you listen to (follow) on Twitter, you will come across a significant amount of information that is relevant and interesting.

Another often overlooked benefit of social media is the personal connection. Many criticize social media for being impersonal and I’ve found it to be completely the opposite. I do not think I would have met any of my COSMO collaborators if it were not for Twitter – I met all of them online before we had the chance to meet in person. There is enormous potential for networking and collaboration with physicians across multiple specialties for those who utilize social media.

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