Stories about: online social networks

Participatory surveillance in public health: Sharing is caring

Sharing via social media is a great opportunity for collecting better public health data and encouraging healthy behavior changes. (bengrey/Flickr)

We humans are sharing creatures. We talk about ourselves, what we think, what we know. If we weren’t like this, cocktail parties would be really boring, and Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t exist.

Nor would health care. At the most basic level, health care relies on give-and-take between patients and doctors—patients sharing their symptoms and concerns with doctors, and doctors sharing their knowledge with patients.

The same holds true for public health. Prevention and control efforts require lots of patients and doctors to share information so that public health agencies know where to target their resources.

But the give-and-take in public health is often slow and cannot always detect conditions or complications at rates that reflect reality. And usually it’s one-way—from the patient or public to surveyors.

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Tapping crowds for science: From galaxies to diabetes

Photo: ausnahmezustand/Flickr

What do a project cataloging pictures of galaxies, an RNA folding game, and a call for people with diabetes to contribute data all have in common?

Each is part of a new revolution in science. Called “citizen science,” this revolution takes science out of traditional academic or industrial environments and into the population at large, asking the general public to take part in activities that further particular areas of research.

Citizen science projects tap the aggregate computing power of crowds to help collect or analyze huge data sets, running the gamut from online games (e.g., FoldIt, EteRNA) to screen savers that make use of your computer while it’s asleep (e.g., SETI@home) to projects asking people to count or categorize images from large-scale astronomy projects (e.g., GalaxyZoo, Stardust@home). Some even try to reduce animal-vehicle collisions on the nation’s roadways by cataloging and mapping roadkill.

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How good are social networking sites for patients?

A teenager with type I diabetes has general admission tickets to a U2 concert. She’ll have to stand in a crowd all day to get a decent spot, and wonders how to make sure her blood sugar doesn’t hit a dangerous low.

A grandpa with type II diabetes is tired of people thinking he can’t ever have any sweets. And a new mom with diabetes is too overwhelmed with her baby and work to manage her illness.

All three, from different nations and continents, recently shared their stories on a social networking site for diabetics – part of an increasing trend for patients to turn to online social networks for healthcare. I came across their stories, along with some identifying information, without even having to register as a member of the site I was on.

But is this a bad thing?

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