Oncology Rounds

Going beyond puppy photos: How to use Facebook to accrue clinical trial patients

by Deirdre Saulet and Kate Wister

Social media is no longer just a way to connect with old high school classmates or distant family members—it can also be a great opportunity to connect with patients and colleagues online. A recent OBR article highlights how hematologists are expanding their digital toolbox and using social media to facilitate education, increase program awareness, and even recruit patients for clinical trials.

Access the cancer program website redesign implementation resources

Here's how cancer programs and providers have made the most of social media—and how you can increase your own organization's social media savvy.

Use social media as a platform to facilitate education

In the article, which recaps a discussion at this year's American Society of Hematology meeting, one physician, Teresa Chan, discussed the benefits of social media for educational purposes. In particular, she highlighted how social media can be a great forum for continuing physician education, allowing programs to reach a wider audience with workshops, lectures, or blogs. She also suggested that social media can help educate patients online. This is particularly important because 72% of internet users have looked for health information online. But, of course, not all patients looking online are finding quality information. Social media is an accessible way for your program to start filling the gaps in quality patient education.

UVA Cancer Center addresses this need through its blog, Your Center. The blog provides important educational information for patients and caregivers, and it addresses many topics patients might not want to discuss with their providers. Blog topics range from sexual health to healthy ways of expressing anger to supporting a friend with cancer.

To ensure the content reaches patients, UVA uses search engine optimization and also promotes blog posts through their oncology-specific social media Facebook and Twitter pages. The latter strategy has been particularly successful, with 50% of the blog's visitors coming from a Facebook link. Learn more about UVA's Your Center blog here.

Expand your reach when recruiting for clinical trials

Another physician involved in the discussion, Dr. Ruben Mesa, discussed the benefits of using social media to reach patients with rare cancers. Dr. Mesa treats myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) and creates educational videos about MPN and his practice. He mentioned that because of his social media presence, most patients who come to him for treatment have already seen his videos online. This has helped him recruit patients for clinical trials, which can be particularly difficult given the rarity of MPN.

The Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, a collaborative effort between multiple provider, policy, and advocacy groups, is another example of how social media can help recruit patients for clinical research. The project uses social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, to engage with patients online and recruit metastatic breast cancer patients for the research project.

Through advertisements and information about the project on popular advocacy groups' social media sites, patients can click on a link to be directed to the MBCproject homepage. Here, they'll find more information about the project and can complete an online form to indicate their interest. A representative from the project will then reach out to the patient to gain consent, send a saliva kit to collect samples, and determine the patient's genetic makeup to inform current and future research on metastatic breast cancer. Within just three months of launching the program, 1,000 patients had signed up. These two examples show just how eager many cancer patients are to participate in clinical research—and how you can tap into this by using social media to help broaden your reach.

Find out more about the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project and other ways to encourage participation in clinical trials here.

What they value: Get to know the 5 types of cancer patients

Cancer patients have more choices for their care than ever before. To attract patients in this fiercely competitive landscape, you must invest your limited resources in the right services—ones that will earn patients' trust and improve their experience.

Our infographic is your guide to understanding the five types of patients and what they value in a cancer provider.

Download the Infographic