Social media is key to screening mammography education

By Kate Madden Yee, staff writer

November 1, 2018 -- What kind of questions or concerns do women have when it comes to screening mammography? Social media is a good way to find out, according to a study published in the October issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Radiologists need to step up their game to better leverage social media, wrote a team led by Abbas Charlie of NYU Langone Hospital. Charlie and colleagues conducted a study that focused specifically on Quora, a question-and-answer website.

"Although clearly some medical professionals are participating in discussions on Quora, the majority ... may not always be aware of the forum itself or of the varied messages that are disseminated in such increasingly powerful and popular platforms," the group wrote.

Charlie and colleagues analyzed mammography-related questions posted on Quora between June 2010 and February 2017, recording the question topic, responses, and number of views. They identified 51 questions for the study period; there were 172 responses to these questions and 197,620 views of these questions and answers (JACR, October 2018, Vol. 15:10, pp. 1478-1486).

Of the responses, 29.7% were from medical professionals and 70.3% were from nonmedical professionals. Most of these nonmedical professionals did not disclose their profession, the authors wrote.

The top three most frequent topics were the efficacy of mammography (31.4%), screening guidelines (19.6%), and what to expect at a screening visit (17.6%). The researchers also found the following:

  • Nineteen of the medical professionals who responded to the posted questions were physicians. Of these, internists were the most frequent responders (36.8%), followed by radiologists (21.1%).
  • Only 8% of medical professional respondents were breast radiologists.
  • Of the medical professionals whose responses discussed age-specific screening guidelines, 62.5% recommended starting screening at age 40.
  • Most nonmedical professional respondents were in favor of mammography screening in general (81.8%), and 44.4% were in favor of annual screening beginning at age 40.
  • Among the nonmedical professional respondents, 18.2% were unsupportive of mammography screening, stating that it is "unscientific and harmful," that it "doesn't reduce mortality," and that it has "high false-positive rates."

Unfortunately, it's the physicians best suited to addressing patient questions and concerns about screening mammography -- that is, breast imagers -- who aren't demonstrating a strong presence on social media forums such as Quora, Charlie's group noted.

"Only two of 25 (8%) medical professional respondents were breast radiologists, suggesting that there is a lack of participation on Quora by medical professionals who may be particularly equipped to address patient concerns regarding breast imaging," the group wrote.

Radiologists must understand how important it is for patients to have access to accurate information about screening mammography -- and they need to actively participate in that effort, according to Charlie and colleagues.

"If we do not begin to read, respond to, and engage with these social media sites, we may lose the chance to shape dialogue and to help patients who are actively seeking answers about their healthcare," the researchers concluded.

Copyright © 2018

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