From the Journals

Physicians not yet comfortable with using social media to recruit for trials



Social media presents some unique opportunities, as well as unique challenges, when it comes to being a tool for clinical trial recruitment.

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Some of those opportunities and challenges were identified following interview with 44 physicians affiliated with the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

“There were three main themes identified by physicians as potential advantages of social media use for trial recruitment, as follows: increased visibility and awareness, improved communications, and patient engagement,” Mina Sedrak, MD, an oncologist at City of Hope, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Open Network.

“Most physicians cited social media as a useful platform to increase awareness and visibility of clinical trials, recognizing it as a means to reach large populations and easily spread information about available trials,” the authors wrote. “They described social media as a way to easily disseminate clinical trial information online to patients, caregivers, and other physicians because of the large number of users on these platform.”

The interviewed physicians also identified a number of disadvantages of using social media for clinical trial recruitment, including increased administrative burden, risk of misinformation, lack of guidance, and limited outreach.

Physicians expressed “apprehension about the potential of social media to oversimplify trials or spread misinformation” and “concerns that information might be misconstrued because of the nature of the Internet,” Dr. Sedrak and colleagues wrote.

Three themes were identified by physicians when prompted to talk about potential strategies for effectively using social media for clinical trial recruitment, including institutional support, evidence, training.

“Physicians expressed interest in using social media for recruitment if they were provided institutional resources to manage recruitment efforts on social media,” the authors noted. Physicians also called for the establishment of methodology to guide physicians on how to use social media as a recruitment tool. Third, they wanted more education on how to use social media as a recruitment tool.

Even as the context of these findings reveal the pros and cons, Dr. Sedrak and colleagues observed that “our findings revealed that physicians are not currently comfortable with or prepared to effectively use social media for cancer clinical trial recruitment. Although their are some aspects of these new modes of communication that physicians are enthusiastic about (i.e., increased visibility and awareness), several important concerns remain. Notably, many physicians felt uncomfortable with the idea of using social media because of increased administrative burden and concerns of the complexities of clinical trials would not be appropriately communicated.”

Authors noted the limitations of the research, particularly that all the interviewers were affiliated with the same cancer center and may not be generalizable to wider practice settings. It also did not include the perspective of nonphysician research personnel, who are more involved in the recruitment aspects.

“Further research is needed to address potential concerns that may arise in the future and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the risks and benefits that social media pose in clinical settings,” the authors noted. “Before social media can be integrated into clinical trials, specific guidelines must be defined for such use.”

They noted that the American Society of Clinical Oncology is working on such guidelines.

SOURCE: Sedark MS et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Sep 4;2(9):e1911528. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.11528.

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