At my first two AHA Scientific Sessions, I sat in the Main Event Hall, shoulder-to-shoulder with my co-fellows, eagerly awaiting the results of the Late Breaking Clinical Trials and guideline updates. I remember whispers cascading across the room after the presentation of NEAT-HFpEF in 2015 and the hundreds of cellphones in the air snapping pictures of the hypertension guideline release in 2017. This year as an AHA Early Career Blogger, I learned the results of the Late Breaking Clinical Trials with other news writers at embargoed media briefings. These intimate press conferences are routinely offered to health care journalists at major medical meetings and by top medical journals. Members of the media receive early access to manuscripts and data and discuss trial findings with investigators and outside experts with the understanding that nothing should be published until after trial results are publicly released. Generally, media pieces are published very soon after the embargo is lifted. At my first embargoed briefing, I heard one reporter’s question that has spurred me to imagine a new, more inclusive future for scientific meetings.
On Sunday of Sessions, I joined other health care reporters for the VITAL and REDUCE-IT presentations. In VITAL, 1 gram/day of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (containing 460 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and 380 mg of docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) was not effective for primary prevention of cardiovascular events in healthy middle-aged adults. In REDUCE-IT, icosapent ethyl (a purified EPA) at a dose of 2 grams twice daily reduced cardiovascular events among patients at risk for or with known cardiovascular disease and with high triglycerides already on statin therapy with good LDL-C control. After both trials were presented, one news writer probed the primary investigators’ thoughts on communicating these results to patients. The reporter wondered if the trials could be interpreted as sending mixed messages about the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids to the general public. Both trials’ primary investigators acknowledged this concern and systematically reviewed the differences in drug composition, patient populations, and study goals that, in their estimation, led to the outcomes. Multiple panelists implored the journalists to integrate these differences into their stories with hopes that consumers and potential patients would be able to understand the distinctions on their own.
After the briefing, I walked to the Main Event Hall to re-experience the Late Breaking Clinical Trials and thought about how we translate these breakthroughs, frequently announced at scientific meetings, to the public and our patients. Recent data suggest that the use of social media at cardiovascular conferences, a key approach to broadcasting late-breaking scientific developments, is rapidly growing. At these meetings, physicians comprise the largest group of Tweeters and compose nearly half of all tweets.1 Identifying the full scope of our social media audience, though, is more elusive. Ensuring veracity in scientific communication has become progressively challenging as the attitudes and tools to perpetuate misinformation have spread. We know that across multiple information domains, false news spreads faster, farther, and deeper than the truth.2 Just this week, Dictionary.com chose “misinformation” as the 2018 word of the year.3 Clinicians and scientists are now especially vulnerable to this insidious erosion of public trust.
How do we combat the propagation of falsehood while encouraging this new democratization of science? I have thought about how the importance of trust was so admirably exemplified in a recent study of blood pressure reduction in black barbershops.4 What if we could leverage our meetings to spread science to where our patients are and with trusted people delivering the message? The AHA has recognized this opportunity and does have programs in place, like “Students at Sessions”, to share Scientific Sessions with non-medical communities.5 Can we imagine a future state of Scientific Sessions where internationally recognized clinicians and scientists deliver a talk at a barbershop or civic center in the host city, where community leaders are invited to participate in panels and plenaries, where large scale cardiovascular risk screenings happen just outside our conference center doors?
The 2019 Scientific Sessions will be held in my current home base of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am looking forward to learning the results of the next round of Late Breaking Clinical Trials and guideline updates in the Main Event Hall, but next year, I hope to sit shoulder-to-shoulder not only with my cardiology colleagues, but with my fellow citizens, community leaders, and patients.
- Tanoue MT, Chatterjee D, Nguyen HL, et al. Tweeting the Meeting: Rapid Growth in the Use of Social Media at Major Cardiovascular Scientific Sessions From 2014-2016. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2018;11:e005018.
- Vosoughi S, Roy D, Aral S. The spread of true and false news online. Science. 2018;359:1146–1151. doi: 10.1126/science.aap9559.
- Italie, Leanne. “Dictionary.com Chooses ‘Misinformation’ as Word of the Year.” Associated Press, 26 Nov. 2018, https://www.apnews.com/e4b3b7b395644d019d1a0a0ed5868b10.
- Victor RG, Lynch K, Li N, et al. A Cluster-Randomized Trial of Blood-Pressure Reduction in Black Barbershops. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(14):1291-1301.
- “High schoolers enjoy peek into world of cardiovascular science.” American Heart Association News. 21 Nov. 2017. https://newsarchive.heart.org/high-schoolers-enjoy-peek-into-world-of-cardiovascular-science/.