Twitter Emerges as Health Policy Sounding Board

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Social media’s potential to influence health policy showed up early in the debate over PSA measurement as a screening test for prostate cancer, according to study reported here.


Within 2 hours after the first news media report last fall about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force draft recommendation against PSA testing, the first related post appeared on the social website Twitter.

Over the next hour, Tweets related to prostate cancer increased by 50% as compared with the 4 hours prior to the USPSTF announcement, and 60% of the increased Tweet volume related to the task force recommendation.


Most Twitter users did not express an opinion about the recommendation, but among those who did, the pro-PSA screening contingent outnumbered the anti-screening (pro-USPSTF) posters by more than 3 to 1, Vinay Prabhu, said at the American Urological Association meeting.


“Social media, such as Twitter, are a useful way to gauge public sentiment,” said Prabhu, a medical student at New York University in New York City. “Social media may also have a role in influencing public sentiment and altering policy.”

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