Social media and palliative medicine: a retrospective 2-year analysis of global Twitter data to evaluate the use of technology to communicate about issues at the end of life

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Social media describes technological applications which are used to exchange information in a virtual environment. The use of social media is increasing, in professional and social contexts, on a variety of platforms such as Twitter; however, the scope and breadth of its use to discuss end-of-life care has not previously been reported.


To determine the frequency, sentiment and trend of Twitter ‘tweets’ containing palliative care-related identifiers (hashtags) and/or phrases sent by users over a 2-year period.


A 2-year retrospective analysis of Twitter posts (tweets), between the 1 August 2011 to 31 July 2013, using a social media analytics tool: TopsyPro. Thirteen search terms were identified and analysed for tweet volume, frequency, sentiment and acceleration.


A total of 683.5K tweets containing a combination of 13 palliative care terms were analysed. The tweet volume for all terms increased by 62.3% between 2011-2012 (262.5K) and 2012-2013 (421K). The most popular terms include ‘end-of-life’ (210K), #hpm (114K) and ‘palliative care’ (93.8K). Sentiment was high with 89% of tweets rated more positive than all other tweets sent on Twitter during this period. The term ‘Liverpool Care Pathway’ experienced the highest percentage increase in tweets (55% increase) reaching a peak in July 2013.


A lot of discussion about palliative care is taking place on Twitter, and the majority of this is positive. Social media presents a novel opportunity for engagement and ongoing dialogue with public and professional groups.

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