(This is the second in a series of blogs from the MDigitalLife Team of Summer Interns using the MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem to shed light on commonly discussed topics. Our first post covered the health benefits of wine)

Although they have often been overlooked, misunderstood, and misdiagnosed in the past, concussions have the potential to cause severe damage and should be treated seriously. We, the MDigitalLife interns, have decided to take a deeper look into the discussions of concussions online. As the rate of diagnosed concussions continues to grow, so does the importance of correct concussion care. After diving into the MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem Database, we found 84,800 posts from health ecosystem stakeholders discussing the topic of concussions online over the last three years. Of that group, 25,900 or 30.5% were from medical doctors; because these MDs made up a large part of the online concussion conversation, we decided to focus specifically on their portion of the conversation for our analysis. Through scientific studies, analysis of entertainment/media, and the online conversation driven by the two, the elevated seriousness of concussions has been brought to attention.

The raised level of concussion discussion amongst doctors correlates with the rise in concern for youth safety in both scientific studies and media coverage. Given the recent increase in concussion diagnosis rates, concerns have been raised regarding the safety of adolescents and soccer ball heading (when an athlete plays the ball in the air with his or her head). People even called for a ban on heading among soccer players in high school and below. The first study to escalate online conversation, on July 14th, 2015, was conducted by JAMA Pediatrics to identify injury mechanisms commonly contributing to concussions; specifically during soccer. The study found that athlete-athlete contact was responsible for 69% of concussions in boys and 51% of concussions in girls. Not surprisingly, conversation related to the JAMA Pediatrics study was led by Orthopedic Surgeons (22.5%) with Pediatricians (9.6%) and Neurologists (9.6%) following behind.

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An article written by the New York Times, The Right Response to Youth Concussions, released on August 31 2015, created a huge increase in MD conversation. The article addresses the limited progress made in keeping adolescent athletes free of concussions in sports with high risk of head injury. Since the number of concussions keeps rising, The New York Times states that it is vital that athletes, parents, and coaches know how these injuries are properly diagnosed and how to avoid long-lasting consequences; including variations of when returning to play is acceptable after a concussion. After the release of this article, online concussion conversation continued to skyrocket.

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Concussion research wasn’t the only topic to drive conversation; the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith, released on Christmas Day, contributed to a large jump in physician conversation. From the 25th to the 28th we saw an elevation in concussion conversation. The movie portrays the effects of brain trauma suffered during football. Dr. Bennet Omalu finds neurological deterioration in the brain of a past NFL player and he will not be stopped until his case is heard. The movie caused a large amount of controversy and discussion about the future of football and whether or not it is even safe to play. We decided to take a look at the health ecosystem and find which medical professionals were sharing about “Concussion”. Reaching the largest audience, cardiologist,  C. Michael Gibson, was the eighth most followed MD talking about concussions in our health ecosystem with 2,877 MD followers and 233,348 total followers. Gibson’s concussion-related tweets focused on sharing information about concussions and promoting the conversation. His tweets, such as his sharing of the article about the “Concussion” movie, brought attention to the growing concerns for the long-term damage that concussions can cause and their relation to football.

After public interest in concussion spiked due to the release of the movie, physicians went online to answer questions and educate people on this important topic (Physicians contributing their knowledge to the online conversation is a trend we see repeat itself frequently). Leading concussion experts, Neurologist Jeffrey Kutcher and Pediatrician Christopher Garza, hosted a health care tweetchat (#AskConcussion) to answer questions about concussions, causing the largest spike on the timeline of concussion conversation – on the same day, 34 unique doctors contributed to the tweetchat.

In conclusion, the online conversation surrounding concussions is similar in a few respects to the wine conversation we discussed in our last blog post. The level of conversation in both topics increases when new research or information emerges, at which times the new posts are shared by MDs and the information gains traction and begins to circulate through the online healthcare community. One key distinction from the conversation about wine was the movement of the healthcare conversation into Hollywood, with the release of the “Concussion” movie. Because information about the film was being shared in both the online health and the mainstream media communities, the conversation gained a significantly larger amount of traction than normal. Shortly after the new information is published, the amount of concussion conversation begins to fall back down and returns to normal.

This blog post was prepared by the MDigitalLife Summer Intern Team consisting of Brittany Pearson, Gray Alston, and Bradley Snyder. Stay tuned to the blog for additional posts from the team in the coming weeks.