Social media has been credited with the potential to transform medicine, and Twitter was recently named “an essential tool” for the academic surgeon. Despite this, peer-to-peer and educational influence on social media has not been studied within orthopaedic surgery. This knowledge is important to identify who is controlling the conversation about orthopaedics to the public. We hypothesized that the plurality of top influencers would be sports medicine surgeons, that social media influence would not be disconnected from academic productivity, and that some of the top social media influencers in orthopaedic surgery would not be orthopaedic surgeons.
To identify the top 100 social media influencers within orthopaedics, characterize who they are, and relate their social media influence to academic influence.
Twitter influence scores for the topic “orthopaedics” were collected in July 2018 using Right Relevance software. The accounts with the top influence scores were linked to individual names, and the account owners were characterized with respect to specialty, subspecialty, practice setting, location, board certification, and academic Hirsch index (h-index).
Seventy-eight percent of top influencers were orthopaedic surgeons. The most common locations included California (13%), Florida (8%), New York (7%), United Kingdom (7%), Colorado (6%), and Minnesota (6%). The mean academic h-index of the top influencers (n = 79) was 13.67 ± 4.12 (mean ± 95%CI) and median 7 (range 1-89) (median reported h-index of academic orthopaedic faculty is 5 and orthopaedic chairpersons is 13). Of the 78 orthopaedic surgeons, the most common subspecialties were sports medicine (54%), hand and upper extremity (18%), and spine (8%). Most influencers worked in private practice (53%), followed by academics (17%), privademics (14%), and hospital-based (9%). All eligible orthopaedic surgeons with publicly-verifiable board certification statuses were board-certified (n = 74).
The top orthopaedic social media influencers on Twitter were predominantly board-certified, sports-medicine subspecialists working in private practice in the United States. Social media influence was highly concordant with academic productivity as measured by the academic h-index. Though the majority of influencers are orthopaedic surgeons, 22% of top influencers on Twitter are not, which is important to identify given the potential for these individuals to influence patients’ perceptions and expectations. This study also provides the top influencer network for other orthopaedic surgeons to engage with on social media to improve their own social media influence.