This is the last of a 3-part series investigating physicians’ views on health reform as expressed online.

Part 1: Online Physicians and Health Reform – By the Numbers (8 May 2017)
Part 2: Online Physicians and Health Reform – A Closer Look (12 May 2017)

As noted in the previous posts, after decades of relative passivity, physicians have become extremely active online relative to health reform.

This has never been more clearly expressed than the week of 1 May 2017, when HB2192 (The American Health Care Act aka AHCA aka TrumpCare) passed the US house of representatives. The volume of physicians and their activity levels were radically higher on health reform than normal – even the “new normal” that’s been established since January 2017.

As you may have noted from the previous posts, there was significant evidence in the hashtags and links they used to suggest that a large number of physicians opposed the AHCA. In fact, the top 100 conservative new sites represented only 2.4% of the 10,982 total links shared. For more information on what physicians linked to when posting about health reform, please refer to Friday’s post – Online Physicians and Health Reform – A Closer Look.

As promised, we are going to take a deeper look at the topics discssed by these online physicians, and quantify their attitudes on AHCA in this post. First, a few notes on methodology:

All posts analyzed for this research were shared by a random sample of 10,000 US physicians on their twitter accounts (sourced through the MDigitalLife Online Health Ecosystem database) between 1 May, 2017 (Monday) and 5 May, 2017 (Friday). As noted in our first post, there were 2,435 unique physicians from that group who posted about health reform; collectively they posted 15,149 times on the subject.

To better understand the topics discussed by these physicians, we used a proprietary clustering algorithm to group those 15,149 posts according to natural language patterns (shout-0ut to data science wizard Jeff Byrne on that score!). When doing so, there were clear patterns that emerged.


Fig. 1: Topical clustering analysis of US MD’s posts about health reform during the week of 1 May, 2017. Source: MDigitalLife Online Health Ecosystem database

The advantage in using language clustering as a mechanism for understanding topics in a large volume of data is that you have the additional benefit of seeing how these topics actually relate to each other. For example, the largest cluster focused on the AHCA bill itself – what it is, how it was passed, etc. But that is inextricably tied to the topic of Legislative Accountability – e.g., direct references to the legislators most responsible for the bill’s passage in the house (and those in the Senate who will get to deal with it next). Legislative Accountability is then inextricably linked to physicians’ Calls to Action – essentially, “contact your congressman at this phone number/email address.” The vast, overwhelming majority of these posts would be considered “anti-AHCA.”

phamavatarSome – perhaps many – of these posts were directly linked to concerted efforts among medical societies intended to rally their membership to a cause that represented deep concern for them (notably the American Medical Association, the American Association of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics). The AAP was particular compelling & successful in this regard, leveraging hashtags such as #PutKids1st and #KeepKidsCovered – and by giving its members the ability to change their actual bio picture to feature their slogan, I #VoteKids.

To go beyond abstractions in terms of actually quantifying sentiment, I actually went back to the basics – reading (statistically significant) samples of our 15k+ posts and noting whether they were positive, neutral or negative towards the passage of the AHCA. In order to be really sure, I coded almost 10% of the total number of posts (1,410 of the 15,149 posts). The results were unequivocal:


Of that coded sample, an overwhelming 92.4% were anti-AHCA, with only 6.1% being for the AHCA.  More than 90% of US online physicians expressed strong opposition to the AHCA.

Do those number accurately represent how all US physicians feel? Almost certainly not. At this point, there is limited incentive for pro-AHCA voices to “stick their necks out” in the face of such an organized, passionate group of opponents. However, the fact that 3 of the largest and most influential medical societies in the country have take a strong position against AHCA and begun to effectively activate their respective membership is a good indication that any similar legislation emerging from the Senate will face stiff headwinds from physician groups – especially those such as pediatrics and hospice & palliative medicine, whose patients are at the greatest risk of there is any loss in coverage.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about how the W2O Group can help you to better understand, engage and activate the audiences you care about in healthcare … the MDigitalLife team can tap quickly into an unparalleled data source to meet your needs for marketing, communications, medical education and clinical trial recruitment.

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