Look who's talking now: Cancer in primary care on Twitter. An observational study

BJGP Open. 2021 Feb 23;5(1):bjgpopen20X101134. doi: 10.3399/bjgpopen20X101134. Print 2021 Jan.


Background: Twitter is a microblogging platform that helps share information. It is a dynamic tool that has been embraced by many user types including consumers and healthcare professionals (HCPs). Currently, there are no data on how cancer in primary care features on Twitter.

Aim: To explore the type of users and information shared about cancer in primary care on Twitter.

Design & setting: A descriptive exploratory study took place of publicly available Twitter data.

Method: Tweets were searched between July 2015 and June 2017 for 'GP', 'general practice', 'primary care', or 'general practitioner' in conjunction with 'cancer'. A 20% random sample was coded for geographic location, user type, type of tweet, and theme. Tweet sentiment was analysed using R package sentimentr. Content that gained traction was compared by combining original tweets, retweets, favourites, and duration.

Results: There were a total of 3413 tweets from 1611 users in 44 countries. Consumers were the largest user group followed by health organisations, healthcare professionals, and the media. The most common theme across user types was diagnostic delay. Other themes that emerged included cancer screening, symptom awareness, and early diagnosis. Consumers published more negative tweets, particularly in relation to diagnostic delay. Health organisations focused on symptom awareness and screening. Over half of media tweets were stories that featured delayed diagnosis or screening.

Conclusion: A broad range of users engage with Twitter to share information about cancer in primary care. Content is different between user groups, but diagnostic delay and symptom awareness are common themes. Healthcare and professional organisations may need to consider approaches to counter negative messages about diagnostic delay.

Keywords: cancer; general practitioners; neoplasms; primary health care; social media; twitter.