A few months ago I wrote a short post on Phil Baumann’s 140 healthcare uses for Twitter. Well, Chris Thorman over on Software Advice has written a longer piece on the potential of Twitter for identifying and tracking disease outbreaks in real-time. To get some vaguely reliable data from Twitter, rather than the mess of misinformation with the occasional piece of truth thrown in which is Twitter as of today (oh, cynic that I am), it would be necessary to have a uniform set of diagnostic codes, “hash tags” and a proper authentication system, e.g. as Chris writes:
“…This adoption by doctors would need include a verification system that only allows trusted or authenticated users to tweet about information contained in the EMRs. What we’re trying to avoid is aggregating a whole mess of data related to a particular disease. Authenticating users to make sure they are who they say they are avoids this problem. With a uniform set of diagnosis codes and a proper authentication system, suddenly the trending data sent out by these verified doctors’ tweets goes from speculative to extremely reliable.”
I do actually think that Twitter or a similar technology could be very useful in tracking the early signs of a condition, or any other “rare event” pattern. In fact I’d be amazed if we weren’t using it this way very soon. What is required however, as always, in some kind of central, trustworthy institution to organise, analyse, study and disseminate the data that comes in, as well as ensuring the diagnoses are correct and not just false positives. That’s the hard part, not some Dr in a clinic in Great Yarmouth tweeting that one of their patients has a sniffle. Anyway, take a look and see what you think. Twitter fans will like it at least. Another step towards world domination.