All-a-Twitter: CT risks a hot topic on social media

Information about CT and radiation risks found on Twitter are largely concerned or unfavorable, according to a study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Researchers, led by Vinay Prabhu, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center, looked to wade through the millions of daily tweets and drill down into posts concerned with both “CT” and “radiation” to assess opinions and information being shared related to CT radiation risks.

The authors noted the far reach Twitter has—there are nearly 200 million active users of the site sending out approximately 500 million tweets per day. How this avenue of communication was being used to discuss radiology, and CT in particular, was of interest to Prabhu and colleagues.

“Because Twitter is likely to influence such perspective, radiologists, physicists, and radiologic technologists are in a position to take a proactive approach, offering Twitter content about the topic that is credible and helpful and taking advantage of their training and expertise in the area,” they wrote.

For the study, the team gathered publicly available tweets posted between January and December 2013 that contained both the words “CT” and “radiation.” In the end, they’d collected a total of 621 relevant tweets for the study authored by 557 unique users.

Of the Twitter users who posted CT-related content, they found that 90 were physicians (16 percent), and of these, only 17 were radiologists. Thirty users were medical practices or hospitals, 34 were patients, eight were physicists or technologists and 395 were classified as “other” types of users.

Out of the 621 posts, 227 (59 percent) were unfavorable or concerned, 10 percent were informative about CT dose reduction strategies and just 3 percent were favorable.

The authors counted 472 links in the tweets to a total of 99 unique articles, of which 25 were unfavorable.

Prabhu and team speculated that the imbalance of opinion may be due in large part to the user types participating in CT dialogue on Twitter. They also suggested the lack of radiologists engaging in the conversation is illustrative of a larger trend.

“Radiologists’ lack of participation on Twitter may represent just a snapshot of broader lack of activity by the profession in working to inform the public opinion on this important topic, including in other forums,” they wrote.

The authors concluded that Twitter is just one way radiologists can engage with the broader patient community.

“We believe that more active engagement on social networks by radiologists, physicists, and radiologic technologists is warranted to achieve a more balanced representation and alleviate substantial concerns relating to CT radiation risk that appear to dominate the social media atmosphere,” Prabhu and colleagues wrote. “Indeed, social media provides a compelling outlet for radiologists to take advantage of their training and knowledge in this area to engage patients in ways otherwise not possible.”