Today is, perhaps, the biggest day on the health communications calendar. At 6 p.m., the American Society for Clinical Oncology will release thousands of abstracts on recent advances in cancer to be presented at its annual meeting next month, all of them expanding our understanding of the country’s second-largest killer. Reporters will spend the day being briefed on some of that research, Wall Street insiders will spend the night poring over abstracts, publishing telephone-book-sized notes by this time tomorrow morning.
But as I’ve written before, even with all the attention, media coverage will focus on a tiny number of studies. Of the 4,000-plus pieces of research released today, perhaps 10 will be mentioned in the national media tomorrow. Trade media will note a dozen or two more in the weeks to come. At the meeting itself, another small handful of topics will get attention.
The mathematics is somewhat sobering. If tradition holds, more than 99 percent of all abstracts will never get a second look by the press. This is not exactly the fault of the media: this is a volume-of-information problem, and one that the media are struggling with, valiantly. And yet it’s fair to say that a lot of those abstracts deserve a deeper look, if not by the New York Times or Oncology Times, then by *someone*: a physician in the area, a patient with deep knowledge, a researcher in a related area.
But as anyone who has wandered the packed rooms and halls of ASCO before knows, many of these presentations *are* being given that deeper look. It’s just that there is no mechanism to gather feedback. What if that were to change? What if if every presentation, every poster, every scrap of research at ASCO could be easily commented upon? The meeting would get flipped on its head: instead of only the most touted research getting public comment and scrutiny, a much broader swath of the program would suddenly be fair game.
That would be a huge added value for health care providers and patients alike. How do we get there? Here is my modest proposal:
- Attach a QR code to every piece of research being presented, from the online abstract to the physical poster.
- Make sure that QR links back to a single, unique page for every every abstract.
- Let researchers append additional materials to the abstract: final posters, links to methods or background.
- Ensure that the pages are open for commenting (and bonus points for making them tweetable or likeable on Facebook).
- Let the masses have at it, and keep those abstracts and comments up for posterity.
This is clearly not doable for 2011, but imagine how this could change the game in 2012. To be sure, there are obstacles. Science hasn’t traditionally done peer review in public. There are technical challenges and the traditional issues with moderation. And there is a likelihood that, for the vast majority of the abstracts, no one would comment, “Like,” tweet or otherwise share. But it wouldn’t matter. Right now, the number of abstracts that receive even a passing mention from the media probably totals less than 100, and the number that gets major attention is far, far smaller. If even 5 percent of abstracts receive additional commentary, the amount of perspective on the meeting will quadruple.
ASCO is too big, too important to limit coverage to just a handful of items. “Socializing” the media would allow the meeting to live up to its reputation as the medical meeting of the year. See you there.
(Note to clients: in advance of the meeting, WCG is publishing its Oncology Media Guide, an overview of the outlets and trends shaping the cancer landscape. If you’re interested in receiving a copy, please contact me or your client partner.)