Author + information
- Received July 21, 2017
- Revision received October 6, 2017
- Accepted October 8, 2017
- Published online January 30, 2018.
- Sumeet Pawar, MD,
- Gina Siddiqui, MD,
- Nihar R. Desai, MD, MPH and
- Tariq Ahmad, MD, MPH∗ ()
- ↵∗Address for correspondence:
Dr. Tariq Ahmad (@yaleHFdoc), Section of Cardiovascular Medicine (@YaleMED, @YNHH), Yale University School of Medicine, 135 College Street, Suite 230, New Haven, Connecticut 06520.
Throughout history, the translation of cutting-edge insights from clinical investigations into patient care has relied heavily on communication of these discoveries by “thought leaders” in the field of medicine. This knowledge is traditionally presented and disseminated via medical journals that are carefully curated by academic leaders (1). Over the last decade, however, the rise in social media has substantially disrupted the manner by which information is disseminated (2). Twitter is now a crucial mechanism by which ideas are spread rapidly, and with maximum catchment (3). Nonetheless, very little is known about whether leaders within the academic medical community are as effective as their counterparts in business and politics in the uptake of social media tools to reach relevant populations. To explore this question, we examined the characteristics of Twitter usage among key academic leaders among the cardiovascular medicine community, as defined by membership on the editorial board of 2 of the highest-impact, U.S.-based specialty journals.
To answer our question, we searched for the presence of Twitter accounts among members of the editorial boards of JACC and Circulation, completing the data-gathering phase of this project in March 2017. We also gathered statistics on the official Twitter accounts for each of these journals.
We found that a minority of academic leaders—as defined by our criteria—had a presence on Twitter. Among editorial board members of Circulation, 59 of 269 (21.9%) had accounts. The median number of tweets were 33 (interquartile range [IQR]: 6 to 549), and only 20 editors (7.4%) had tweeted within the last 24 h. The number of followers—a gauge of popularity—was 124 (IQR: 28 to 497), and the highest number of followers was 11,900, which is considered an outlier because the second highest was 2,652. Only 15 (5.6%) had more than 500 followers (Figure 1). For JACC, 46 of 190 (24.2%) of the editors had twitter accounts, the median number of tweets was 32 (IQR: 2 to 299), and 14 (7.4%) had tweeted within the last 24 h. The median number of followers was 198 (IQR: 30 to 540) with only 14 editors (7.4%) having more than 500 followers; of these 6 were also on the editorial board of Circulation.
To examine whether these findings were specific to cardiology, we assessed where these patterns existed in the 2 highest-ranked medicine journals, JAMA and NEJM. Both had comparatively smaller editorial boards, comprised of 54 and 48 individuals, respectively, with a slightly higher percentage of editors with twitter accounts for JAMA: 40.7% and 22.5%, respectively. As in the cardiology journals, they had relatively few followers: JAMA (n = 721, IQR: 36 to 1,873) and NEJM (n = 214, IQR: 66 to 2,185). Last, we found that the official journal accounts had significantly higher numbers of followers: Circulation (n = 17,400), JACC, (n = 10,000), JAMA (n = 207,600), and NEJM (n = 427,300).
We believe our central finding to be quite remarkable: <25% of the editorial board of 2 major cardiology journals in the United States had Twitter accounts. Furthermore, of those who had accounts, a very small percentage had more than 500 followers. This did not appear to be from lack of enthusiasm for academic content: the official journal pages had thousands of followers.
These findings suggest that far greater engagement with the public is possible by academic leaders in cardiology. We also noted that only a small percentage of those studied used the tool effectively, as estimated by the low number of tweets and followers for the medical research findings that are presented in the journals.
Of course, we should interpret these findings with the understanding that they were limited to Twitter, that our user inventory may have missed journal editors operating under aliases not found by searching their names, and that the number of followers is but one measure of influence.
That said, our findings highlight the large chasm between academic leaders in cardiovascular medicine and the potential consumers of their insights into medical advances (4). Despite the increasing number of venues for publication of data, this could paradoxically lead to academic “echo chambers” where knowledge generation is not translating into practice in an efficient and modernized manner. Furthermore, the absence of expert opinion creates a vacuum that can be filled by false information (5). One of the 3 key mission statements of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is “communication of research advances to the public” (6), an objective that would be far better realized if leaders in cardiovascular medicine increased the quality and quantity of their engagement with the public using the powerful tool that is social media.
The authors have reported that they have no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose.
- Received July 21, 2017.
- Revision received October 6, 2017.
- Accepted October 8, 2017.
- 2018 American College of Cardiology Foundation
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- ↵National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The NHLBI mission statement. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/org/mission. Accessed October 26, 2017.