Why Dr. Younes uses social media

This is an excellent account of one oncologist's rationale for using Twitter (excerpt below). Dr. Anas Younes describes the utility of YouTube and Twitter in spreading credible information and enrolling target patients in clinical trials. Enjoy and have a happy 4th.

Two years ago, I decided to experiment with social media. I have a strong interest in the treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare type of human cancer that affects approximately 8,600 patients per year in the United States. With a cure rate of 75%, it was very challenging to get pharmaceutical companies interested in developing new therapies for this small patient population. Furthermore, because of the limited pool of patients who are eligible for experimental therapy, these trials traditionally never enrolled patients in a timely manner.

My challenge was to convince industry sponsors of the unmet medical need opportunity, and to demonstrate that novel clinical trials in this small patient population can indeed enroll patients in a timely manner. To achieve these objectives, my laboratory collaborated with several biotech and pharmaceutical scientists to examine targeted agents in preclinical experiments. These collaborations resulted in designing several clinical trials for patients with relapsed Hodgkin's lymphoma. So we went from no clinical trials to four IRB-approved studies that ask important scientific and clinical questions. Now, I needed to spread the message to enroll patients.

Initially, I started sending e-mails to colleagues to draw attention to these clinical trials with links to clinicaltrials.gov. However, the results didn't match the effort. So I had to use other methods of communications. I contacted the staffs of Oncolog and Conquest, two widely circulated M. D. Anderson publications, and explained to them my challenge. They both published stories and a few additional patients told me that they read these articles and that's why they came to M. D. Anderson.

But ultimately, the biggest impact came from a social media outlet: YouTube. The online version of Conquest included a YouTube video link that covered our clinical and translational efforts to improve the treatment outcome of patients with relapsed Hodgkin's lymphoma. In a few months, thousands have watched the video, which was associated with a surge in patient referrals to our clinic. Four years ago we used to enroll a maximum of 20 patients per year with relapsed Hodgkin's lymphoma on clinical trials. We now enroll approximately 80 patients per year, an unprecedented number for any single institution. Results from these trials are rapidly reported in national and international meetings, and all of a sudden a momentum was created that hope is on the horizon for these patients who were neglected for almost three decades.