Getting Social With Disease: How Public Health Authorities in Central and Eastern Europe can Improve Outbreak Predictions with Social Media
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Governments by their nature are conservative organizations. With the possible exception of defense, most central and local government departments are slower than entities in the private sector to adopt the latest IT tools – whether something "small" like an off-the-shelf analytics application or "large" like a full-scale migration of systems and software to a cloud-based delivery model. Usually this is okay. But in the realm of public health, it means missing an opportunity to rapidly improve disease monitoring and prediction systems, particularly those concerned with flu outbreaks.
Fortunately for public health officials in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), a number of best practices and precedents have already been established. Researchers in both the U.S. and the U.K. have verified that keyword tracking tools (e.g., Google Flu Trends) and analysis of social media chatter (on such sites as Twitter) are as good as or better than traditional survey methods for monitoring and predicting outbreaks of highly contagious illnesses. Given the relatively low costs and high benefits of these methods, public health authorities can use social media tracking and deployment to greatly enhance their ability to alert medical professionals and institutions about case loads and supply needs, as well as the general public about where and when risk is expected to be highest.