Imaging professionals need to be aware of, vigilant against false information on Twitter

Twitter has become the most widely used social media network among the medical community, with its ability to disperse snippets of medical news and information while fostering conversation.

However, medical imaging providers may not be using the platform to its utmost potential, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. A study from 2015 found that 50 percent of medical tweets from professional accounts were found to contain inaccurate information.  

Researchers, led by Ioannis Seimenis, PhD, from Democritus University of Thrace in Alexandrouplis, Greece, wrote that social media have emerged as a tool to facilitate interaction within academic communities, no matter physicians' geographical locations. However, this increases the risk for spreading false information, the authors explained. 

Seimenis and colleagues looked for tweets that were in reaction to or regarding radiation exposure results associated with x-ray mammography screenings. Search terms included "mammography,” "radiation,” and "mammo" and monthly tweet distribution within the three-year period for tweets were searched for with the terms "screening" and "digital.” 

The team collected a total of 427 tweets created by 329 unique users posted over a three-year period, from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2016. Additionally, researchers classified the tweets according to user type, content and context. 

Almost half of the accounts were owned by individuals, with only 8 percent owned by scientific organizations or higher education institutions or personnel, according to the researchers. 

In terms of the favorability of tweets, Seimenis and colleagues found favorable posts mainly came from private companies and organizations. On the other hand, 62 percent of unfavorable posts were tweeted by individuals.  

"The percentage of people having an unfavorable attitude toward radiation exposure in mammography is potentially quite higher, considering that a recent survey revealed that only 38 percent of participants were aware that mammography involves radiation exposure," the researchers wrote.  

Nonetheless, the findings exemplify the need for more accurate systematic dissemination of mammography benefits versus risks through Twitter. Because tweeting mammography risk-to-benefit balance carries low risk academically, medical imaging providers may have to put in extra effort due to less patient interaction than other specialists have. 

"Scientists using social media perceive numerous potential advantages, and focused studies have demonstrated that Twitter can constitute an effective tool for broadcasting scientific information," according to the researchers.