Twitter as a New Tool for Health Officials??

25 Jan

My research interests have always been health related. I have been particularly concerned with premature birth rates and diet so I am always interested in ways to increase awareness and minimize risks. I can say that I have never once considered Twitter as being an effective tool for health officials. I came across this article (http://on.mash.to/SHcriJ) which really makes you reconsider the effectiveness and power of 140 characters.

It seems that health officials are able to learn a great deal from tweets. Many Twitter users seem to have their GPS enabled so officials are better able to monitor and locate potential illnesses. The health officials look for key words like flu, cough, fever, etc and are often able to pin-point specific areas. Although this may not be such a bad thing, it may make some people question if they should really share their illnesses online. Some Twitter users may want to turn their location service off  or make their profiles private if they have a concern about the monitoring of their tweets. Since medical professionals are acknowledging social media and all of the information that can be obtained, how many of our tweets are being used for research?

While some people may be quick to complain, the more accurate tweets just may help health officials to prevent further spread of illnesses and outbreaks. In addition, the abundance of tweets related to illnesses and outbreaks allow health officials to issues warnings, tips, and other advice.

So for a fun exercise, the next time you are own Twitter, type in stomach flu or Norovirus in the search tool and look at the results. It seems as if the flu is no longer the culprit but the stomach flu is spreading rapidly. I have no problem with health officials monitoring these specific tweets because the stomach flu is no friend of mine!

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