US computer scientists from John Hopkins University, have been researching and scouring Twitter for any health related tweeting inside of America. Having read and looked at over 1.5 million tweets, all related to the health of tweeters from 2009 to 2010, they found some interesting facts. Mainly, that peoples self diagnosis and self treatment were often incorrect and unsuitable for their sickness. It turns out, a fair few of the general public tend to use the incorrect drugs and remedies to relieve symptoms of illness. PhD student Michael J. Paul (who helped on the research project) continued to explain this point by saying,
“Tweets showed that some serious medical misperceptions exist. We found that some people tweeted that they were taking antibiotics for the flu. But antibiotics don’t work on the flu, which is a virus, and this practice could contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problems.”
Care In the Community
This is an excellent example of how Twitter, more than any other social media, is a great way for people to interact on any topics. In the right hands, these tweets and the information derived from this research, could help people have a better understanding of general and day to day health and how to combat the lesser illnesses. Its also a great opportunity for Doctors to get involved in social media and help get some of the correct medication ideas out to the people!
Channel 4′s Dr Christian Jessen (@DoctorChristian) and ITV’s Dr Chris Steele (@DrChrisSteele) are just a couple of many professional medics already on Twitter helping the public diagnose and offer suggestions for treatment. By getting professionals on Twitter to help answer peoples tweets, it would help not only with that individuals, but free and safe health advice for absolutely anyone. Clearly, if you’re in dire need of emergency help, Twitter is not the place for you to turn, but for a nagging headache, a chesty cough, stomache bug, it offers quick and clear advice.
The research that took place at John Hopkins University, is also a good way of spotting medical trends. For example, by tracking tweets which mentioned flu or colds, or most fitting to this time of year, hay fever, they were able to determine patterns,
We were able to see that the allergy season started earlier in the warmer states and later in the Midwest and Northeast,” said Professor Mark Dredze.
Now, obviously, there are limitations. People don’t sit and tweet all day when they’re not feeling 100% peachy (in theory), so full facts of ones health is not always available. However, if online, authentic, safe and official health sites/Twitter pages were made available, maybe more people would try these channels first before clogging up over worked GP’s or hospitals? With the correct people taking the lead over these sorts of issues, there is a great potential market and community out there for people who need such help.
~Articles mentioned/referenced in this post: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14059745
~Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcfarlandmo