Saturday 24 February 2018

Health Digital Check-Up:Medical Meetings Go Social

Live tweeting from an event has become common practice throughout nearly every industry with some larger events generating as many as 10,000 – 15,000 tweets. Applied to the health space, this is clearly evident in medical meetings where the use of social media and digital elements are becoming more and more commonplace. Aside from individuals live tweeting events, many meetings now have their own Twitter accounts, tweeting out official conference news, relevant information and serving as a personalized conference micro-blogging tool.

As Cathy Arnst recently noted in her weekly email, “Arnst’s Angst,” the “reporting-by-twitter movement is already part of the information landscape, and proves once again the importance of instant communication, and instant interaction, to the creation of news.”

As Twitter and social media continue to shape the health communications space and more specifically medical meetings, it will be easier for individuals to remotely “attend” industry events and follow breaking news coming out of conferences with the click of a mouse.

Referencing this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting (ASCO), Cathy cited how it was “much easier to keep up with ASCO this year by following the news on Twitter than searching for it in the newspapers or online.”

This Health Digital Check-up contains some of the team’s top insights and programmatic considerations.

Through The Eyes of Twitter

The use of social media extends the conversation around medical meetings both before and after the event, with the conversation often beginning weeks in advance. What was once a couple days of traditional coverage now starts online with the release of abstracts and continues through the meeting with commentary from individuals sharing what they find interesting. As a clear example of how the use of Twitter is impacting medical meetings, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued an NCI Cancer Bulletin concerning the use of social media at this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting. Worth the read, the bulletin gives an overview of the pros and cons of using Twitter at medical meetings and the unique view this medium provides. How can you join the social media conversation to build momentum behind data leading up to a meeting?


One way to generate buzz online is through a personalized Twitter account such as Roche’s @CongressConnect. Launched earlier this year, @CongressConnect is a Twitter feed that, according to the company, is the “official Roche Twitter site for congresses.” Through the Twitter feed, Roche’s communications team tweets out general and company-centric information from select medical meetings, providing followers with information about the events unfolding as well as Roche’s abstracts and presentations. This is an innovative and clever way for Roche to provide followers with instant access to its data and further publicize relevant posters and abstracts through a social media presence. Additionally, Roche links to its social media guidelines which provide an outline of its various online properties.


Hashtags are an essential part of all tweets coming out of medical meetings and panels often have personalized hashtags to allow attendees to easily follow the online conversation generated during a presentation. Using programs such as TweetChat, in-person attendees or those attending remotely can quickly find tweets related to a specific panel and easily follow along with the conversation. For example, sticking with the ASCO example from earlier, this year’s conference hashtag was #ASCO11 – helping attendees, media and anyone interested easily locate and follow news coming out of the conference.

A Work in Progress

According to Jody Schoger, a writer who blogs and tweets about cancer, tweets during meetings are often a mishmash of messages with attendees offering their individualistic view on what’s interesting. Due to the 140-character limit, heavily scientific information is often shortened, leading to the exclusion of key details and explanations. This has resulted in reluctance on behalf of some conferences and presenters to have their information tweeted out due to possible inaccuracies. In hoping to curb inaccurate information, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has taken a first step by publishing social media guidelines for its conferences which outline appropriate use for attendees. Despite these guidelines, it is clear that live tweeting during medical meetings is still an ongoing work in progress as conference organizers search for a healthy balance between instantaneous content creation and oversharing. However, as Bryan Vartabedian, MD writes on, policies to restrict Twitter use illustrate “the disconnect between the past and the present” and “ignore the obvious reality that we are the media. Communication tools like phones have become tools for publication.”

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