By Miriam A. Knoll, MD, and Gil Morgan, MD
Like many oncologists I’ve met over the past few years, I first met Gil Morgan, MD, on Twitter. Dr. Morgan (@WeOncologists) is an American medical oncologist currently practicing in Sweden and the creator of the Twitter account @OncoAlert and the hashtag #OncoAlert. Dr. Morgan invited me to join his network last year, and since then I’ve watched it grow exponentially. OncoAlert celebrates its first birthday in March 2020, and currently boasts 7,353 followers.
Here’s the story behind #OncoAlert and why you should be paying attention, especially amidst the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
MK: How did you come up with the idea for your Twitter account @OncoAlert and the accompanying hashtag #OncoAlert?
GM: My original intent when I joined Twitter was to expand my own oncology knowledge and keep up to date with the rapidly changing world of oncology. So I made a commitment that during my daily commute to the hospital, I would quickly scan 10 articles, pick one, read it, create a synopsis of the conclusions, and tweet it. I wanted to force myself to read daily and share articles I found interesting with other colleagues, in the hopes that they might find them interesting, too. After doing this for a year, people I’d never met would stop me at conferences and thank me. They shared that they followed me and enjoyed reading the tweets and articles I posted every morning.
As I met oncologists through social media, I started Oncology Case Discussions live along with Dr. Felipe Ades, which were live case discussions, presented to a panel of experts, including Dr. Jack West, Dr. Christian Rolfo, Dr. Gilberto de Lima Lopes, Dr. Raffaele Califano, and many others. What made these cases special is that they were interactive and were being live-streamed on Facebook and Twitter, and therefore anyone in the audience could participate and ask questions in real time regardless of their geographic location. I used these discussions to create evidence-based educational presentations entitled “WeOncologists ESO Presents.” Here we share bi-monthly case-based and guideline-based presentations in order to expand global oncology education. This effort continues to grow due to its popularity and all the wonderful people in my network.
In March 2019, I created the #OncoAlert hashtag. I first created a group chat via Twitter direct messaging, with the first 10 core members who were all medical oncologists—however, this number quickly grew. Members would share information via Tweets and add the hashtag #OncoAlert. Today, we’ve grown to over 115 core members worldwide with 56 residing in the U.S. and 40 in Europe. We are also no longer just medical oncologists, we now have five oncology nurses, 11 patient advocates, and other colleagues in radiation, gynecologic, and surgical oncology.
MK: What role has #OncoAlert taken on during the COVID19 pandemic?
GM: Our network has oncologists from all over the world, with the bulk of us practicing in the U.S. and Europe. This kind of tight global network has given us an incredible opportunity to share information about COVID-19 and learn from each other. Oncologists who are currently practicing in Italy have been sending us the alert about what they’re seeing firsthand, which is invaluable unfiltered information that allows us to be better prepared in dealing with this pandemic.
COVID-19 has made us aware that many of our educational and peer activities will have to start relying on interactive social media and telecommunications and less on face-to-face interaction. As a response to this and our commitment to oncology education, #OncoAlert has started with OncoAlert case studies. These are live-streamed case studies presented by colleagues worldwide with real-time discussions with #OncoAlert experts. We will host the first live stream in late April focusing on lung cancer and another in May on breast cancer, both with an amazing faculty (Dr. Charu Aggarwal, Dr. Christian Rolfo, Dr. Alfredo Addeo, Dr. Erika Hamilton, Dr. Stephanie Graff, and Dr. Matteo Lambertini). These case studies will be streamed at a convenient time so that our colleagues worldwide can benefit. From Los Angeles to Mumbai, we want everyone to have the opportunity to participate, interact, and get involved.
On March 17, 2020, OncoAlert did a live interactive roundtable discussion between experts from Italy (Dr. Giuseppe Curigliano, Dr. Daniele Generali), the United States (Dr. Erika Hamilton, Dr. Axel Grothey), and Sweden (Dr. Lena Sharp), which was broadcasted through Twitter and Facebook. Colleagues worldwide could ask questions in real time. The aim of this roundtable was to gain clarity and learn from the experiences our Italian colleagues are living (read Dr. Curigliano’s account of COVID-19 in Italy on ASCO Daily News). The broadcast reached 15,000 viewers worldwide in the first 12 hours and the following day could be found on the OncoAlert YouTube channel where it can conveniently be streamed. The network saw a possibility to share the discussion of this roundtable and put it in a sharable format where it reaches every stakeholder, especially those who are not on social media but are affected by COVID-19, and thus we took immediate action.
This has been the beauty of our network that we have recently discovered: in the face of a global emergency, we come together as a medical community and we step up!
MK: What is your vision for the future of #OncoAlert?
GM: One of the great aspects of #OncoAlert has been the ability for the network to change and adapt depending on the needs of our colleagues. I would like to continue to have this mindset because we have no idea what the needs of our colleagues are going to be next year, next month, or next week, but we sure would love to be there to facilitate their lives, keep them up to date on all the developments in the field, and respond together as colleagues in times of emergency, such as the moment we are living in now. We started as an oncology network and we will always remain an oncology network, we just happen to be an oncology network that is very pro-patient advocate and that believes in highlighting the needs of patients and patient advocates and doing all in our power to help and amplify their voices.
At the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the network was able to participate in the GRASPcancer poster walkthrough with advocates; OncoAlert had 14 people participating. I would love to see this trend continue and have a strong bond with the patient advocate community, not just in the U.S. but globally.
When it comes to our colleagues, it would be great to work with professional societies such as ASCO, ESMO, ASTRO, ESTRO, and others to facilitate practice-changing information in real time directly from the source. Using the #OncoAlert hashtag helps disseminate oncology news in real time to many around the world who not only follow us but engage with us daily.
OncoAlert has already stretched to other platforms and we have a growing following on Instagram and Facebook, both with over 1,000 followers each. This is a great way of reaching our younger colleagues with oncology information but with a different look than one would get on Twitter. We hope to expand on these platforms much in the same way we have done on Twitter, with the help and support of our colleagues.
Lastly, we would like to start developing our webpage and mobile application where our colleagues could find all the information from the OncoAlert Twitter feed, as well as offer easier access to oncology education. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to educational content—we just need to talk to societies or schools already providing this and ask for permission to host their video recordings, as well as producing our own content which can be found at our YouTube channel. The entire network is very happy with the success of OncoAlert and we see it as an opportunity to make a bigger impact in continuing to fight cancer through social media and continue to keep our friends and colleagues #OncoAlert!
ASCO has developed and compiled resources to support oncology professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources include evidence-based answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about clinical care of patients with cancer, a centralized collection of links to credible sources, the latest decisions about impacted ASCO meetings and programs, and oncologist-vetted information for patients. This page will be updated regularly as the COVID-19 public health situation evolves.