Researchers at Bristol University have suggested that it is possible to track flu outbreaks through social media. Using a keyword analysis of messages posted on twitter, users found that it was possible to track flu outbreaks.
Although Twitter only has around 200 million users, it still reflects a pretty good sample of the world’s population and, thanks to the encouragement of the use of geo-locations tags, researchers are able to trace outbreaks based on tweets using the flu dectector to trace keywords in tweets. (So, simplified, it’s just another form of social media measurement).
Professor Nello Cristianini, who co-conducted explained: “Our research has demonstrated a method, by using the content of Twitter, to track an event, when it occurs and the scale of it.
“We were able to turn geo-tagged user posts on the micro blogging service of Twitter to topic-specific geo-located signals by selecting textual features that showed the content and understanding of the text.”
This research is another indication of the future of healthcare and social media and is in line with previous research which used Twitter to track attitudes to vaccines and whether or not people were getting sick.
This research brings excellent news to health providers who are willing to use social media as another tool to help them access patients; however, they should also be cautious. As well as being useful for information, social media is a notoriously good vehicle for misinformation with a high ratio of signal to noise.Tags:Flu, Healthcare, Research, social media, Twitter, University of Bristol