Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have become a growing topic of discussion in healthcare today. The topic is in its infancy, the literature hasn’t settled on a name for the group of platforms, with various articles using Social Media (SoMe), Online Social Networks (OSN) or Social Network Sites (SNSs), the latter of which we will be using throughout this article.
Most literature relating to SNSs in the early 2000s had been focused on their role in linking patients and health care professionals (HCPs).1 However, more recently the new and emerging role of SNSs in communication among HCPs in facilitating interactions, sharing of information, and promoting connections has taken center stage.2 In our brief review we set out to highlight the aspects of HCP SNSs use as it relates to pre call planning for the Medical Science Liaison (MSL).
There are a broad range of SNSs platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, Sermo and Doximity, to name a few. Most SNSs are public facing while others such as Sermo and Doximity are specifically for HCPs. All SNSs have unique traits and target a specific user type with different intents for use. Different HCP specialties have varying preferences for SNS platforms.3
Physicians most often join online communities where they can read news articles, listen to experts, research medical developments, consult colleagues regarding patient issues, and network.4 It is important for MSLs to discover which SNSs are preferred by HCPs in their therapeutic area to better focus their engagement.
All SNSs operate on similar principles of the user creating an account representing them to the rest of the users on the platform. Users then create content to share with others on the SNSs. The primary type of content shared by users can vary greatly from exclusively video on YouTube to primarily a focus on messages with less than 280 words on Twitter. Users can then share, “like”, or comment on the content. A user can choose to see all of another user’s posts, “likes”, shares, and comments in their content feed which is generally referred to as “following” or subscribing to that user. More “likes”, shares, ”follows” and comments create more notoriety in the SNS realm.3 One can draw a parallel to the fact that more citations of a journal article indicate an article is influential.
MSLs can create SNS accounts based on their company specific guidelines to gain insight to HCP engagement. Perhaps one of the most commonly cited benefits of SNSs is the ability to connect HCPs with similar specialties to promote education, advocacy, and best practices.5,6 SNSs allow HCPs to connect with people who would otherwise be out of reach. Viewing the content that key HCPs, share, “like”, and comment on and the individuals they “follow” is insight into their viewpoints, whose opinions they value, and what information they are currently interested in following. HCPs also share insight and provide personal opinions through comment fields. Through these communications, MSLs are provided the opportunity to gain different perspectives of pharmaceuticals and disease states that HCPs encounter in practice. In addition, this type of information can allow MSLs to better prepare for engagements with HCPs to ensure that the content of the conversations are aligned with HCPs interests.
With the ability to rapidly share content, SNSs play a significant role in distributing clinical and scientific information in real time. Journal articles are commonly shared content by HCPs. This type of rapid communication allows journals to drive engagement and increase article visibility through prompt dissemination.7,8
For example, top-ranked cardiovascular medicine journals are regularly presented on Twitter to foster the distribution of articles. Data suggests an association between an active Twitter promotion of papers and their online and scientific impact.9 Assessing if key HCPs are sharing landmark trials of interest is an effective initial litmus test for MSLs to appreciate HCPs interests and opinions. Similarly, medical congresses have utilized SNSs to expand the reach and distribution of education and clinical data, finding that SNSs engagement increased congress engagement.10,11 HCPs in turn, also use SNSs to share what most interested them from a congress or which presentations gave them pause. With this information MSLs can gain insight into which congresses HCPs attend or have interest in following. This information facilitates more effective conversations with HCPs regarding new information from congresses.
The use of SNSs and virtual platforms grew exponentially more important due to the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic. For example, the American College of Cardiology World Congress of Cardiology 2020 quickly pivoted to a virtual congress due to the pandemic. The virtual congress platform allowed widespread global engagement, discussion via chat features, and the ability to view presentations live or at a future date. HCPs discussed their perspectives on presented topics on various SNSs platforms and highlighted topics of particular interest to them. With MSLs unable to interact with HCPs at these congresses, the ability to gain insight through SNSs has become even more valuable.
Despite the many positives of SNSs in gaining insight to HCPs in preparation for meetings, it is important to keep in mind that SNS engagement does not replace live meetings with HCPs as many of their most impactful thoughts and insights may not be shared on an open access platform. The MSLs role continues to be to develop relationships to foster scientific exchange and the role of SNSs is as a source of information prior to engagement with HCPs. The use of social media is constantly evolving and advances in technology will drive how scientific communication is delivered to HCPs. HCPs have started to embrace SNSs as a way to rapidly engage and share information with their global colleagues. Similarly, MSLs must now adapt to virtual engagements. Utilization of the various SNSs provide significant advantages for MSLs. SNSs allow MSLs to gain insight and perspectives to aid MSLs in aligning their scientific exchange to HCPs interests and needs.
- Capurro D, Cole K, Echavarría MI, Joe J, Neogi T, Turner AM. The use of social networking sites for public health practice and research: a systematic review. J Med Internet Res 2014 Mar;16(3):e79.
- Chan WS, Leung AY.Use of Social Network Sites for Communication Among Health Professionals: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res. 2018 Mar 28;20(3):e117. doi: 10.2196/jmir.8382.
- M.N. Walsh. Social media and cardiology. J Am Coll Cardiol, 71 (2018), 1044-1047.
- Househ M. The use of social media in healthcare: organizational, clinical, and patient perspectives. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2013;183:244–248.
- Rolls K, Hansen M, Jackson D, Elliott D. How Health Care Professionals Use Social Media to Create Virtual Communities: An Integrative Review. J Med Internet Res. 2016 Jun 16;18(6):e166. doi: 10.2196/jmir.5312.
- Bowser, et al. Social Media Behavior and Attitudes of US Physicians: Implications for Continuing Education Providers A Clinical Care Options (CCO) White Paper. clinicaloptions.com January 2017.
- Fagbule, OF. Use of Social Media To Enhance the Impact of Published Papers. Ann Ib Postgrad Med. 2018 Jun; 16(1): 1–2.
- N.S. Trueger et al. Medical journals in the age of ubiquitous social media. J Am Coll Radiol, 15 (2018), pp. 173-176.
- Ladeiras-Lopes R, Clarke S, Vidal-Perez, R, et al. Twitter promotion predicts citation rates of cardiovascular articles: a preliminary analysis from the ESC Journals Randomized Study. European Heart Journal, ehaa211, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa211.
- Lin JA, Hsu AT, et al. Impact of Social Media on Current Medical Conferences. J Reconstr Microsurg. 2019 Jul;35(6):452-461.. Epub 2019 Feb 13.
- Leary M, McGovern S, et al Examining the Use of a Social Media Campaign to Increase Engagement for the American Heart Association 2017 Resuscitation Science Symposium. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018 Apr 13;7(8).
Dr. Tania Gregorian, PharmD, BCACP, is Medical Science Liaison at AstraZeneca in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases. As a MSL she is passionate about supporting evidence based medicine to improve patient outcomes. Prior to becoming a MSL she was an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Chapman University School of Pharmacy and faculty in practice at Cedars Sinai Medical Care Foundation. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree and completed post-graduate residency training at the University of Southern California. Dr. Gregorian has managed multiple chronic disease states under collaborative practice agreements and protocols in the ambulatory care setting. She provided patient care and taught in many primary care areas such as diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia and immunizations in addition to subspecialties in pain management and travel health. She currently resides in Burbank, CA with her family.
Dr. Kristina Kipp, PharmD, is a Medical Science Liaison at AstraZeneca in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. She completed 2 years of post-graduate residency training (Pharmacy Practice and Cardiology) at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Prior to becoming a MSL, she worked as an Emergency Medicine Clinical Pharmacy Specialist. In her current role, she is passionate about improving cardiovascular outcomes as it relates to hospitalization and mortality. She currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her family.