In his recent blog about Twitter feeds for injury prevention, Editor Brian Johnston highlights the value of this social media tool for keeping abreast of injury prevention knowledge. His message is aimed mainly at the researcher, practitioner and policy readers of Injury Prevention. As someone who has been actively using and accessing Twitter over six months now, I would totally agree with him about its value.
But Twitter is also used by the general population more widely, and anyone can express an opinion on any topic with the potential for their views to spread far and wide across social networks. A paper in the March 2012 46(4) issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine by Sullivan et al, demonstrates this well. However, from the analysis of time-limited tweets relating to sport-related concussion presented in this paper, it would seem that dissemination of specific injury prevention messages may be lagging behind other concussion-related (i.e. post injury) messages.
Sullivan et al undertook a content analysis of 1000 randomly selected tweets identified as being related to concussion in sport over a seven day period – this corresponded to about 30% of all relevant tweets over that time. Using a qualitative content analysis method, they identified nine major themes. The top three themes were: “news stories” (33%), typically relating to new injuries in high profile professional players; “sharing personal information/situation” (27%), mainly by those suffering from concussive symptoms; and “inferred management” (13%) which were messages about what to do post-concussion. Injury prevention, or primary prevention of concussion, did not appear in any of the nine themes.
This suggests that information about prevention of injuries from occurring in the first place is not having high prominence in public discussion. At least in this sports injury context, the discussion seems to focus on what people want to know about what to do after they have been concussed or their interest in following the outcomes of star players with concussion. It is unlikely that there is no public desire for information about how to prevent concussion or other injuries from occurring in the first place. But where is the loud public voice about primary prevention of concussion and other injury?
As injury prevention practitioners, advocates and researchers we need to make sure that our messages about primary injury prevention reach our target audiences and have strong currency in current public discussion. We cannot assume that appropriate or accurate information dissemination will occur without our prompting and continual input. There is a clear need for more of us to be actively engaging with social media on a regular basis to ensure that correct information is provided to the general population. As noted by Sullivan and colleagues, the easy access to Twitter means that misconceptions and misunderstandings are also widely disseminated, as not everyone has the knowledge to directly assess or value the accuracy of tweeted information. Such commonplace views and information content will remain unchallenged and uncorrected if injury prevention professionals do not become major credible contributors to Twitter discussions. We also run the risk that our own knowledge of the preventablilty of injuries will remain just that (i.e. our own), and not shared with the population who needs to also hear this.
Caroline Finch is an injury prevention researcher from the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) within the Monash Injury Research Centre, Monash University, Australia. She specialises in implementation and dissemination science applications for sports injury prevention. She is the Senior Associate Editor for Implementation & Dissemination for the British Journal of Sports Medicine and a member of the Editorial Board of Injury Prevention; both journals are published by the BMJ Group. Caroline can be followed on Twitter @CarolineFinch