As FOAM grows, tweeting at healthcare conferences is going mainstream. At the #ICEM2012 conference, Mike Cadogan (@sandnsurf) announced that ICEM 2012 had been the most tweeted about healthcare conference in history. And things have really taken off from there. So far in 2013, Symplur lists over 800 healthcare conferences that have been registered as part of the Healthcare Hashtag Project. So far this week, there have been over 18,000 healthcare conference tweets using hashtags registered at Symplur and over 4,800 conference participants tweeting. This is big business!
So why tweet at conferences?
There are loads of reasons to tweet. Most importantly, it’s in the true spirit of FOAM – bringing free, open access medical education to the masses, making conference presentations available to one and all instead of just the lucky few who get the chance to attend. It also allows those attending the conferences to follow what’s going on in other tracks – so we don’t miss out so much when there are two things on at once that we’d like to know about. And it’s great for the people who are presenting to get publicity for their work. Being tweeted about can raise your profile and make more people aware of your work. So it’s a win-win situation. Isn’t it?
So why wouldn’t anyone want to be tweeted about?
The problem comes when we present work that hasn’t been published in a journal yet – but that we’d like to publish soon or that has been accepted for publication. In general, journals will accept papers that have been presented at scientific conferences. However, if there have been press releases about the research or if the results have been released to the media, this may compromise publication. In the days of social media, the question is whether a tweet (which may reach tens of thousands of people, especially if re-tweeted) represents publication.
The New England Journal of Medicine uses the Ingelfinger Rule to decide whether a paper is still eligible for publication. According to this rule (which dates back to 1969) material won’t be considered for publication in the journal if it’s substance has been published elsewhere. Even after a paper has been accepted, there is an embargo (agreed with the media) until a set date just before publication.
Does a tweet count as publication?
I’m not sure this has ever been tested. But I’m also not sure I’d like to try it! For my own unpublished work, I’d rather not jeopardise it’s chances of publication in a high impact journal. So long as we still use a rule from 1969 to decide on what constitutes prior publication, things are likely to remain unclear. Perhaps what we really need an updated set of guidelines. Until then, I think we have to appreciate that authors of unpublished material might well be reluctant for us to tweet about it.
Does that mean we should ban tweeting at healthcare conferences?
Of course not! But maybe it’s time to start taking account of these problems. Maybe we should ask speakers whether it’s OK to publicise their slides via social media. If they say no, we could let the audience know. Slides could even be marked with a ‘no tweet’ icon in the corner. Perhaps we should even ask the people attending the conference to sign an agreement not to tweet the ‘no tweet’ slides.
These issues are only going to become more relevant as we go on. I don’t have the answers. But maybe you do. Please share your thoughts. We’re planning a number of conferences in the near future – and we could do with your help on this one!