The healthcare industry is increasingly looking to social media for uses beyond education and outreach, experts say, as its potential is unlocked as an informational resource. Growing focus is being placed on monitoring social media for real-time event information and mining it for big data to improve health.
This monitoring is now a part of being a "connected hospital," according to Everbridge, a leading unified critical communications company. Everbridge promotes social media monitoring as one of the best practices for mass communication in healthcare.
“Social networks are real-time news sources. By tracking updates on Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks, healthcare organizations can get photos and videos from the scene of an emergency. Recognize the value of situational intelligence, and your healthcare organization can stay up-to-date throughout the lifecycle of a critical incident,” writes Everbridge’s Jeff Benanto.
Many hospitals agree; 40% of hospitals use social media for crisis communication, according to the 2013 Most Wired survey by Hospitals & Health Networks (H&HN).
One of the most high-profile examples goes back to Massachusetts General Hospital’s use of social media during the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013, notes HFM. Officials monitored citizen reports and among other things, corrected a rumor the hospital was in lockdown.
This year, the new Safety Check button on Facebook made a difference during earthquake response efforts on Nepal, allowing those in the region to instantly indicate if they were OK. “When you only have a few minutes of Internet and you need to get a message out to a lot of people at once, that's a great way to do it," Dr. Miriam Aschkenasy, an emergency medicine physician and deputy director of Massachusetts General Hospital's Global Disaster Response team, told Medscape.
Tips from Everbridge for effective monitoring of issues and events on social media include:
- Filtering information through the use of hashtags and keywords to find relevant information quickly;
- Using multiple sources to help confirm and qualify posted information; and
- Engaging in two-way communication to ask follow-up questions and relay information to impacted individuals.
While big data has already garnered attention for its potential in predicting the spread of contagious diseases, another rising possibility is in predicting emergency room visits from chronic conditions. Researchers from the University of Arizona reported earlier this year they were able to predict approximately how many asthma sufferers would visit a particular Dallas hospital’s ED on a given day--with asthma being one of the ED’s top traffic generators--using data from Twitter along with EMRs and air quality sensors.
The team plans to expand the asthma study and hopes to ultimately develop similar models to predict ED visits for other chronic conditions.
"This multifaceted approach could have important implications for the timeliness of public health surveillance, hospital preparedness and clinical workflow; first for asthma then for other burdensome chronic conditions like childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, to name a few,” announced Sudha Ram, a UA professor of management information systems and computer science.
Merging patients’ posts with EMRs
In some of the latest research on the use of social media within healthcare big data, a new study from University of Pennsylvania suggests value in creating a database that merges patients’ social media and EMR data to provide insights into their health, outcomes and perceptions of their healthcare.
"We don’t often think of our social media content as data, but the language we use and the information we post may offer valuable insights into the relationship between our everyday lives and our health," lead author Raina M. Merchant, MD, director of the Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, stated this week. "Finding ways to effectively harness and mine that data could prove to be a valuable source of information about how and why patients communicate about their health. There is a rich potential to identify health trends both in the general public and at the individual level, create education campaigns and interventions, and much more.”