Online Program

An analysis of a breast cancer tweetchat as a source of social support: An opportunity for bi-directional engagement in healthcare

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Alisa Hughley, MPH, DC Health Benefits Exchange Authority, Washington, DC, DC
Kathleen Hoffman, MPH, PhD, Health Communication, Health Literacy & Social Science Tweetchat, Newton, MA
R.V. Rikard, PhD, Media and Information, Michigan State University, East Lansing

Recent research reveals that 72% of Americans use the Internet for health information (Fox & Duggan, 2013). Individuals are turning to social networking sites (SNS) to discuss health and healthcare. Breast cancer (BC) Facebook patient/caregiver support groups compose the smallest percentage of BC Facebook groups; yet support-oriented groups were the most active (Bender, Jimenez-Marroquin & Jadad, 2012). Of the 6,000 health care hashtags, over 150 health-related twitter chats (henceforth tweetchats) are registered with the Healthcare Tweet Chat Project. We hypothesize that people living with BC participate in health care tweetchats for social support.


The purpose of our research is to highlight the engagement and support BC patients receive from tweetchats.


The research employs a qualitative evaluation of transcripts from the first 8 months of a popular weekly BC tweetchat to identify key themes. In addition, a quantitative social network analysis examines the dynamics of the BC tweetchat interactions.


Several important themes arose from the BC tweetchat. First, sharing the experience of metastatic BC was particularly prominent. Second, significant concerns about the use of donations to “end breast cancer” emerged. Third, social networks built during the tweetchat evolved and relationships led to sincere grief at the death of a tweetchat activist and friend.


Twitter and tweetchats are used to provide support and to bring to light the experiences of those who are seriously ill. Tweetchats foster activism and advocacy.  The importance of tweetchats can be bi-directional helping healthcare providers better understand and communicate with their patients.

Learning Areas:

Communication and informatics
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Define the patient experience using the micro-blogging site, Twitter and the application, tweetchat, for support. Define the areas where patients with breast cancer need support. Describe the evolution of a community and the evolution of advocacy.

Keyword(s): Social Media, Cancer and Women’s Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Study authors founded and co-host a recurring twitter chat that focuses on patient needs, which has been ongoing since 2011. This chat was not the subject of the study.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.