How Cardiologists Became Digital Pioneers

Posted by: in Healthcare Insights on March 8, 2013

This weekend, thousands of digitally savvy professionals will descend on a city that has become synonymous with high-tech innovation. They’ll clog Twitter feeds with the conference hashtag, overrun local watering holes, and swap crucial new insights.

And it’s not SXSW.

The American College of Cardiology meeting formally kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco. Though the use of social media by doctors has been skyrocketing over the past 24 to 36 months, it’s the cardiologists that seem to be adopting new tools the most quickly.

To help illustrate the point, the W2O Group analytics folks did a simple search of a sampling of the top medical meeting hashtags, looking at chatter from seven different conferences (see chart). While the meeting with the most tweets was the giant American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting, the ACC meeting was a close second. And with a third fewer attendees, ACC actually had the highest tweets-per-attendee ratio of any of the medical conferences we looked at.

So what are the cardiologists doing right? It’s started with continued and aggressive use of social media by ACC itself. The communication staff is active online. The Facebook page is filled out. And they’re not just pushing a one-way, online-only vision of communication: ACC is hosting an official tweetup on the event floor on Sunday as a way of deepening the connections between the cardio-twitterari. (There’s an “unofficial tweetup,” too, at a local watering hole.) And it’s not just the ACC. The American Heart Association topped the ShareCare Now list of online influencers about heart disease.

Not that the cardiologists need much help from professional organizations. It’s a rare medical specialty where the opinion leaders are also active online. But Harlan Krumholz, a well-regarded professional from Yale, has a home for his opinions at Forbes.com. When Eric Topol from Scripps talks on Twitter, scores of patients, media and other doctors take notice. And Farris Timimi from Mayo is a social media dynamo.  And it’s not just the household names: in preparation for the meeting, a number of (mostly) younger docs have begun collecting Twitter handles and blog URLs to better track the zeitgeist of the next few days.

The success of the online cardiology community provides a roadmap for specialties interested in growing dialogue online, and alliances between savvy docs, wired-in advocacy groups and a loose collection of patients, companies and reporters is already changing information flows at other meetings.

The increasing volume of online chatter poses no risk the meeting itself; it’s complementary, rather than competitive, augmenting real-world chats in the hallway with virtual ones. In a world where more discussion and more awareness leads to better care, that’s nothing but positive.

* This analysis isn’t perfectly precise; other events may use these hashtags, and other hashtags may be used for a given conference. The seven meetings selected, however, appeared to generate the lion’s share of traffic around the hashtags examined. 

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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