Amara Nwosu

MBCHB MRCP PhD

Social media and palliative medicine: a retrospective 2-year analysis of global twitter data to evaluate the use of technology to communicate about issues at the end of life

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ARTICLE FROM E-HOSPICE UK

http://www.ehospice.com/uk/ArticleView/tabid/10697/ArticleId/12212/language/en-GB/View.aspx

We are living in a digital age and the speed of advancement of technology is, at times, staggering. One technological phenomenon which continues to grow is social media. For example, Twitter (a social media micro-blogging service) has, since its creation in 2006, amassed 271 million monthly active users (who send approximately 500 million tweets per day).

Social media platforms enable their users to connect with others to facilitate discussion on topics of shared interest. This is notable with palliative care professionals who, over time, have established an increasing online presence.

Social media can be used to engage a specific audience, in order to obtain feedback and to communicate information to users. Social media analytical tools can be used to analyse tweets, in order to capture data, predict behaviour of users, analyse sentiment, identify influential people and create targeted advertising campaigns.

Although popular with many businesses, this technology is less commonly used by healthcare and academic organisations. Consequently, there is the potential to use these applications to gain a greater understanding about the use of social media in palliative care.

The aim of our study was to determine the frequency, sentiment and trend of Twitter ‘tweets’ containing palliative care related hashtags (for example, #palliative) and/or phrases sent by users over a two-year period. TopsyPro, a social media analytics tool, was used to conduct the analysis. TopsyPro provides several metrics about tweets, such as the volume, frequency, the overall tone (sentiment) and change in use over time (acceleration). In total, 13 palliative search terms were identified and analysed.

Our analysis revealed that over a two year period (2011 – 2013) the discussion of palliative care on Twitter was frequent (683,500 tweets) and increasing (a rise of 62.3% over the two years). We found that the majority of tweets were positive about the palliative care, demonstrated by a sentiment score of 89% (meaning that 89% of tweets were more positive than all other tweets sent on Twitter during this period). The analysis also demonstrated an increase of activity of several search terms in July 2013, which coincided with the release of the final report of the Independent review of the Liverpool Care of the Dying Pathway in that summer.

Overall this study demonstrates that a lot of discussion about palliative care is taking place on Twitter, and the majority of this is positive. Consequently, social media presents a novel opportunity for engagement and ongoing dialogue with public and professional groups about palliative care.

References

Nwosu AC, Debattista M, Rooney C, Mason S. Social media and palliative medicine: a retrospective two-year analysis of global Twitter data to evaluate the use of technology to communicate about issues at the end-of-life. BMJ Support Palliat Care 2014; Sep 2. pii: bmjspcare-2014-000701. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2014-000701. [Epub ahead of print] http://spcare.bmj.com/content/early/2014/09/02/bmjspcare-2014-000701

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