Introduction: Understanding how patients experience radiotherapy is a key element in improving care. People with cancer are increasingly using social media to share information and discuss healthcare matters. Twitter may provide a rich source of data on how people experience radiotherapy. The aims of this research were to better understand the role of social media in this context and establish what can be learnt about the experience of undergoing radiotherapy from a novel digital data source.
Methods: A qualitative content analysis was conducted to describe how and why Twitter is being used by patients in relation to radiotherapy. Twitter was queried with "radiotherapy" and a purposive subsample of tweets, authored primarily by patients was collected over one randomly generated composite month in 2016. Thematic analysis was performed to interpret the data.
Results: 442 unique tweets authored by patients and their families were sampled and six themes were developed. Three core themes represented the radiotherapy pathway; pre- during- and post-treatment. Underlying themes were emotional and informational support, impact on loved ones and giving thanks.
Conclusion: Patients and their loved ones use Twitter to share their experience of radiotherapy. They describe the physical and psychological impact of undergoing treatment and seek informational and emotional support through social media. There is opportunity for greater engagement from radiotherapy professionals and organisations to improve informational support for patients online.
Implications for practice: Increased engagement between radiotherapy professionals and patient communities on Twitter has the potential to build patient-practitioner trust, promote self-management and raise the social profile of radiotherapy and its professions.
Keywords: Patient engagement; Patient experience; Radiotherapy; Social media; Social support; Twitter.
Copyright © 2020 The College of Radiographers. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.