Supporting scientific literacy online at the ASCO Annual Meeting 2018


Annie Sullivan, Director, Corporate Social Media, AstraZeneca

At the ASCO Annual Meeting 2018, we’re keeping our pledge to be a better social media citizen. We believe that tweeting less, listening more and not using paid tweets helped to ensure more perspectives were heard at last year’s conference. We want to go further and ensure we’re playing a positive role in making #ASCO18 valuable to all.

Over the last year we talked to oncologists, doctors, and patient representatives on social media to understand how industry could add value to online conversations. We heard that closing the gap in scientific literacy between experts speaking at a conference and the watching oncology community, including patients, careers and non-experts, could bring more followers into the conversation.

As a science-driven company with experience communicating clinical data, molecular science and other challenging ideas to large audiences, we can help translate these complex scientific concepts. We want to make these conversations more accessible by providing simple definitions that anyone can use to explain the science to people with different backgrounds and knowledge level. In other words, we’ll focus on what we do best, explaining our science.

Everyone benefits when the oncology community can communicate with a shared language. Patients and caregivers can better understand their condition and doctors or researchers are better equipped to discuss advances in treatment with them more effectively. This may include explaining the use of biomarkers to a non-oncologist or discussing the meaning of an overall survival figure means to a patient.

The benefits of scientific literacy go far beyond enhancing the quality of discussions at conferences. Studies have shown that cancer patients with poor health literacy may have misconceptions about their disease. This may lead to heightened anxiety and dissatisfaction with their care. If patients cannot effectively communicate with health professionals, they may experience unnecessary interventions, under-treatment or poor adherence to their treatment plans.[i]  There are therefore real-world consequence, not only for the quality of information online, but the extent to which its understood.

We all have an important role to play in spreading scientific literacy and online discussions provide one possible forum for building understanding of core oncology concepts. For a few characters more, a tweet could help improve the understanding of the science to an audience that may be accessing it for the first time.

Enhancing scientific literacy in this way won’t replace the in-depth conversations going on between experts at the annual ASCO meeting. Our ambition is a little different: to help begin to bridge the gaps between these valuable discussions and the wider community who could benefit from them online.

[i] Importance of health literacy in oncology. Accessible: