Look who’s talking now: Cancer in primary care on Twitter

Social media are powerful communication platforms. At least half of adult internet users search for or share health-related information. As such, there is great potential for education and communication with the public to disseminate key health messages through social media. This study explored the type of users and information shared about cancer in primary care on Twitter. Tweets were searched between July 2015 and June 2017 for ‘GP’, ‘general practice’, ‘primary care’, or ‘general practitioner’ in conjunction with ‘cancer’. 3,413 tweets from 1,611 users in 44 countries were discovered. Consumers were the largest user group, however, consumers published more negative tweets, particularly in relation to diagnostic delay. The second largest user group were health organisations, followed by healthcare professionals and the media. The most common theme across all user types was diagnostic delay. Other themes that emerged included cancer screening, symptom awareness and early diagnosis. Health organisations focused on symptom awareness and screening, and over half of media tweets were stories which featured delayed diagnosis or screening. This is the first study to explore what content different users share about the role of primary care across the cancer continuum, which provides a foundation to better understand the public perception of primary care. It raises a question about if there is a need for primary care organisations to counter negative opinions and content around the role of primary care in cancer presented on Twitter.

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