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Return of the Death Panel: Romney vs Obama

by imedsocial





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Review of "death panels", insurance and the elections, particularly for the presidential race (Romney vs Obama)
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  • 1. Return of the Death Panel: Romney vs ObamaAbstract – The term “death panel” represents one of the most explosive issues of healthcare. On theone hand, evidence based medicine advocates argue that end of life care must conform to best medicalpractices for alleviating suffering and preventing unnecessary care; on the other hand, opponents fearthat such medical practices will lead to rationing and denial of medical treatment for the elderly.iMedSocial examines the prevalence of references to “death panels” in our social media conversationsduring this presidential election season.IntroductionThe term “death panel” is emotionally evocative – and intentionally so; those who use this term allegethat healthcare reform in the US will lead to denial of medical treatment for the elderly and chronicallyill, thereby causing premature deaths. The flames were further fanned when Steven Rattner, a formeradviser to President Barack Obama, seemed to call for “death panels” in a recent opinion piece in theNew York Times ( Various media articles reported this call and added their owncommentary ( the terms “end of life care” and “death panel” seem to have become synonymous in thepublic’s mind, as witnessed by the above two articles. Therefore, we looked at both aspects of thisdebate – the “end of life care” vs “death panel” description of what should happen in healthcare at theend of our lives – to see how we discuss this very sensitive issue in social media.Our AnalysisOur search included various terms related to “death panels”, “rationing” and “euthanasia” on the onehand, and less emotional terms such as “end of life”, “hospice” and “palliative” on the other hand, ascombined with either “Romney” or “Obama” in separate searches, in the US only, between August 15 toOct 12 2012.All search terms – searched with both candidatesFigure 1 shows that all of these search terms in combination were actually discussed with bothcandidates in roughly equal proportions. However, “Obama” was somewhat more popular than“Romney” in conjunction with these terms.
  • 2. 1400 1200 1000 800 600 Romney 400 Obama 200 0 9/4/2012 9/8/2012 8/15/2012 8/19/2012 8/23/2012 8/27/2012 8/31/2012 9/12/2012 9/16/2012 9/20/2012 9/24/2012 9/28/2012 10/2/2012 10/6/2012 10/10/2012Figure 1 – all search terms have similar popularityHowever, the highest percentage of hits for these terms in combination and “Obama” were found onmessage boards (35%), followed by traditional on-line media (29%), social networks such as Facebook(just under 18%), blogs (11%) and microblogs such as Twitter (7.35%). By contrast, for these terms incombination and “Romney”, the highest percentage of hits were found on traditional on-line media(about 35%), followed by message boards (32%), social networks and blogs (each just under 14%), andmicroblogs (5%).Similar results were found for the more explosive term “death panel” as shown in Figure 2; furthermore,most of the hits found for the more general collection of terms can actually be attributed to the term“death panel”, as can be seen by comparing Figures 1 and 2. 2
  • 3. 1000 900 800 700 600 500 400 Romney 300 Obama 200 100 0 9/4/2012 9/8/2012 8/15/2012 8/19/2012 8/23/2012 8/27/2012 8/31/2012 9/12/2012 9/16/2012 9/20/2012 9/24/2012 9/28/2012 10/2/2012 10/6/2012 10/10/2012Figure 2 – “death panel” and Obama/Romney have similar resultsWe then considered whether “death panel” or “insurance” would be more popular with eachpresidential candidate on social media, but in fact they provided similar results, as shown in Figures 3A(Obama) and 3B (Romney).Figure 3A – death panel vs insurance for Obama 3
  • 4. Figure 3B – death panel vs insurance for RomneyOne interesting element is that in July 2012, both “death panels” and “insurance” scored relatively at alower level for “Romney” in regard to such end of life social media conversations, as opposed to“Obama”. However, both “Obama” and “Romney” show close tracking between insurance and deathpanels on social media with regard to end of life care.Interestingly, similar results were found between “death panels” and “Obamacare” for both men,especially during August – October 2012.ConclusionsEnd of life care decisions, whether described as “living wills”, “death panels”, “hospice” or “palliative”care or indeed any of the other words (having a greater or lesser emotional impact) that we searched,are intimately entwined with the presidential campaign. Furthermore, these words are also entangledwith other sensitive topics, such as “insurance” and “Obamacare”. Recently, both candidates haveshown similar levels of social media conversations for these topics –and these topics have been peakingrecently, showing greater levels of social media interest in October 2012 as opposed to May-August2012.If you are interested in our social media analyses, for Twitter or any other type of social media, pleaseemail us at We would be happy to discuss such analyses and our tips for successfulsocial media campaigns, particularly in the areas of hospitals and medical care providers, and also lifescience companies, including pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies, as well as suppliersto hospital and medical care providers. 4
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