Ideally, we’re all supposed to see our doctor once a year for a checkup. It’s an opportunity to see how we’re doing from a health perspective, address any concerns or issues that we may have and catch any emerging issues before they become true problems.
But those visits are really only one-time, infrequent snapshots of health. They don’t give a full view of how we’re doing or feeling.
Now, think for a moment about how often you post something to Facebook or Twitter. Do you post anything about whether you’re feeling ill or down, or haven’t slept well? Ever share how far you ran, the route you biked or your number of steps for the day?
Every time you do, you’re creating a data point—another snapshot—about your health. Put those data points together, and what starts to emerge is a rich view of your health, much richer than one based on the records of your occasional medical visit.
Elaine Nsoesie, PhD, is a research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital’s HealthMap, Harvard Medical School and Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. In this post, which originally appeared on HealthMap’s Disease Daily, Nsoesie looks at the trend of detecting disease digitally by monitoring mentions on social media. She delves into one of the major limitations of this technique—namely telling those who are curious about a disease apart from those who actually have it.
There are plenty of studies about tracking diseases (such as influenza) using digital data sources, which is awesome! However, many of these studies focus solely on matching the trends in the digital data sources (for example, searches on disease-related terms, or how frequently certain disease-related terms are mentioned on social media over time, etc.) to data from official sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although this approach is useful in telling us about the possible utility of these data, there are several limitations. One of the main limitations is the difficulty in distinguishing between data generated by healthy individuals and individuals who are actually sick. In other words, how can we tell whether someone who searches Google or Wikipedia for influenza is sick or just curious about the flu?
Like many, I have a Facebook page where I share funny travel stories and cute pictures of my cat with friends and family. But for a long time I didn’t understand how such a platform, and others like Twitter, could affect how business is conducted in the life science industry, and how it fit in my own professional life as a hospital technology licensing manager.
I didn’t get it until a tweet from my colleague and fellow blogger Keeley Wray (@Market_Spy) established a direct contact with a regenerative medicine company potentially interested in a cell-based technology in my portfolio. I was surprised: so Twitter isn’t just for celebrities pushing their albums, movies and perfumes to millions of fans? Consequently, six months ago, I enthusiastically joined the Twitterverse (@maude_tessier) and haven’t looked back.
I’m not the only one recognizing the power of social media in the work that pharma, biotech and academic medical institutions do. Last week at the BioPharm America conference, a 90-minute interactive roundtable discussion emphasized the use of social media to help achieve business objectives. …