Sweet Home Chicago: What We’ll Be Watching at ASCO

May 29, 2015

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Chicago, get ready. You’re about to have a lot more doctors, business executives and journalists. Thousands of them are gathering in the Windy City for the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), one of the largest oncology meetings in the world.

While the surge will be temporary, the research and insights shared by oncologists may impact how cancer is treated.

For those who follow cancer closely, you already have a strong sense of the meeting’s hot topics that should drive most conversations. In my view, those topics – things like immunotherapies (activating the body’s immune system to fight cancer), combination therapies, how public and private payers deal with the rising cost of treatments – haven’t changed much from years past.

That’s not to say that these topics are stale or unimportant. It’s the exact opposite. But as communications practitioners, we’re even more interested in how and where news from ASCO will be shared, and who’s talking about it. Here are three areas we’ll be looking at during the conference.

Can live streaming make its way to a medical meeting? Who will broadcast, and will anyone watch?

Two quickly emerging social media apps – Meerkat and Periscope – allow you to live stream video content straight from your phone. They generated tremendous buzz at SXSW, and have been used recently for some major events, including the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and Madonna’s new music video.

ASCO is allowing the technology, and Mandy Davis Aitken, the meeting’s director, has told me on Twitter that both commercial organizations and media can use the apps. I’m excited to see whether any trailblazing pharmaceutical companies take the plunge and whether journalists, already tasked with filing stories and tweeting, find effective ways to use the apps.

How active will patients be on social media?

We already know Twitter hosts and fosters significant conversation volumes on Twitter. One abstract being presented at ASCO found that between April 2011 and September 2014, there were over 500,000 tweets from 77,454 users. Of those, 93% of all those tweets used hashtags that reflect organized Twitter chats on specific tumors – including gynecological cancer (#gynscm), lung cancer (#lcsm) and multiple myeloma (#mmsm) – which typically reflect heavy participation by patients. The study didn’t look at conversation volumes specific to past ASCO meetings, but we expect these highly educated, active Twitter users will be following research closely.

Which pharmaceutical companies, research institutions or other organizations will lead and drive conversation via its own content?

Late-breaking abstracts and other research with the potential to drive changes in clinical practice will clearly drive conversation about a pharmaceutical company. But can any company or organization use social media to create conversation that engages stakeholders and results in positive mentions?

Stay tuned for more from FleishmanHillard on emerging healthcare trends and the use of social media…