Can Breaking Oncology News Spread Socially?

October 5, 2010

I received a press release today from a friend in the Bay Area.  Investigators at UCSF have published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that less chemotherapy can be effective at treating some childhood cancers.  The paper was the result of an eight year clinical study in children with neuroblastoma.  In this particular population, researchers were able to reduce chemotherapy exposure by 40% while maintaining a 90% survival rate.  You can read about it here.

The press release sparked a brief email exchange between me and my friend.  Who might be interested in writing about this study and is there any way to get it to spread?  What would make it sticky in the eyes of the public?

Here are a few ideas:

Figure out who cares? Sure it’s niche news but there are people who would think this is pretty darn important.  Think organizations centered on parents of children with cancer, adult survivors of childhood cancer, pediatric hematology-oncology physicians, pediatricians and allied professionals in pediatric medicine like nurse practitioners and hematology-oncology nurses.  Networks form around these groups.  Find them and seed them.

Make a video. Offer powerful, visual content beyond a press release.  A four minute clip with the principal investigator, Dr. Matthay, would be simple and offer dimension to what is now something restricted to print.  The Mayo Clinic has done this really well.

Make a Cinchcast. Some people just like to listen.  Cinch offers a simple micropodcasting platform that can run off of your iPhone.  Grab your phone and find Dr. Matthay.

Find for a story.  For the mainstream media, stories carry the message.  Perhaps a family that underwent the lower dose arm of the study or potentially a family that had suffered the effects of higher dose chemo would potentially create a human connection.

Hammer your COG (Children’s Oncology Group) hospitals. Off the top of my head both Boston Children’s Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital maintain very busy blogs.  Gracious mention by these two institutions alone would have you off to the races.  The dozens of other COG children’s hospitals with their blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts should add to the burst.  For the latest listing of hospitals in the social sphere, visit Ed Bennett’s great big hospital list.

One tweet can go a long way. A simple Twitter request to me, Wendy Swanson, Kevin Pho, Rob Lamberts, Jenn Dyer, Gwenn O’Keefe to name just a few would disperse to some 35,000 followers.  I’m guessing that this would make its way into the right hands and you’d land a couple of blog posts.

Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Have your network in place before you need it.  COG, UCSF or the institutions harboring these powerhouse principal investigators should think about what kind of networks they’ve built to support important messaging like this.  These are the networks that make stories move.

CureSearch, for example, the funding arm of COG, has a dynamic Facebook page with over 6,000 fans.  These followers would die for this information.  Unfortunately at the time of this post I can see no mention of the study on their wall.  Again, video and audio are likely to get more mileage than a press release.

So how would you put out the word on this study?  Should it be pushed at all?  Or are some stories just not born to spread?


Meredith Gould October 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Wow…a press release? Really? Now tell me it came via snail mail and I’ll shift from dismay to nostalgia. To be fair, I guess I’d need to see how it was presented/formatted but even so, with so many other ways of distributing information, a press/news release would be my last choice — or recommendation. Love your list. Have you thought about a career in healthcare communications?

DrV October 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I didn’t want to bring up the press release thing. But look at it this way…it got to me so perhaps it serves its humble role. And no, it didn’t come in the mail.

I’m not a healthcare marketing professional but I play one on the internet.

Lee Aase October 5, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Really good thoughts. A press release is still part of the toolkit, particularly for a high-impact journal like NEJM. But having the multimedia approach (such as video, from which you can also strip the audio track) makes a lot of sense. The journalists always (or nearly so) want an affected family or patient, so that’s sound advice, too. I think your first and last points are particularly good…and especially if you combine them. If you’re already part of the community that cares, that group will help spread the word because they know you’re on their side. You don’t just do that in the last week before the study is published.

The good news with this approach: if the journalists get interested, it’s a bonus. But meanwhile you will have reached those who care.

Christian Sinclair October 6, 2010 at 2:51 am
Christian Sinclair October 6, 2010 at 2:52 am

Ack! Sorry about not closing the link! That looks mighty ugly!

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