(Medinfo Panel) Is social media a good tool for disease surveillance?

April 8, 2013

Panel: New Trends in Health Social Media: Hype or Evidence-based medicine?

Panelist: Kerstin Denecke, http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kerstin-denecke/34/73b/a90

Threats to the health of individuals are of concern for all of us. When something happens around us, we are communicating this to our friends, colleagues or to the world often through the Web in blogs, twitter messages or forum postings. “I feel so sick” or “I have a high temperature, pain everywhere” – these are messages that can be found on Twitter. But to what extent are those messages referring to real disease outbreaks? In the last years, the idea came up of making use of this chatter for the early detection of disease outbreaks. Methods were developed that exploit content from informal sources, applying sophisticated event-detection techniques to identify potential threats and providing signals to the user in a personalized way [1]. 

However, many challenges still need to be addressed. The language used in social media, in particular in microblogging services such as Twitter is extremely difficult to analyze automatically due to the high variability of language constructions and the immense volume of irrelevant postings [2]. “Football fever” or “(Justin) Bieber fever” are not of interest for public health officials, but these or similar word constructs are coming up from time to time. Sophisticated filtering algorithms were developed, but their applicability and efficacy still need to be evaluated.

There are still open questions:

  • Does social media really provide us with the information necessary for early warning of disease outbreaks? 
  • To what extent is the information reliable we can get from social media?
  • Privacy versus the need to act?


[1] Kerstin Denecke , Peter Dolog , Pavel Smrz: Making use of social media data in public health. Alain Mille et al. (Eds.): Proceedings of the 21st World Wide Web Confer-ence, WWW 2012, Lyon, France, April 16-20, 2012, pp. 243-246

[2] Mustafa  Sofean , Avaré Stewart , Matthew Smith , Kerstin Denecke: Medical Case-Driven Classification of Microblogs: Characteristics and Annotation. ACM SIGHIT International Health Informatics Symposium (IHI 2012)


(Medinfo Panel) New Trends in Health Social Media: Hype or Evidence-based medicine?

April 8, 2013

Dear all,

We recently got accepted a panel proposal for MedInfo (the largest global medical informatics conference organised by IMIA). In this panel we will adress the need for more evidence in the area of health social media, as you can see in the abstract bellow:

“The use of social media in the health domain is growing continuously in the terms of use and also complexity. This panel will provide and overview of the current situation and the challenges ahead. The presenters will provide an engaging discussion rooted in the evidence of the emerging field of Health Social Media. Among other topics the following aspects will be addressed: gamification, personalized medicine, patient safety and other topics that will be discussed in the panel.”

Our panelist are an heterogenous researchers from our working group:

  • Luis Fernandez-Luque, MS (Norut, Tromsø, Norway). Luis Fernandez-Luque is an eHealth expert and Secretary of the IMIA Social Media Working Group. He will organize the panel and lead the discussion about social games.
  • Annie Lau, PhD (Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) will lead the discussion about the risks of social media for consumers.
  • Carol S Bond, Dr (Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, United Kingdom). She has a background as in nursing informatics and participatory health. She is currently the Academic Head of Practice Simulation in the School of Health and Social Care at Bournemouth University. She will present the role of ePatients in evidence-based medicine.
  • Kerstin Denecke, PhD (University Medical Center of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany) will introduce disease surveillance using social media. Read the blog post about her topic.
  • Fernando José Martín-Sanchez, Professor (Health and Biomedical Informatics Research Unit. The University of Melbourne, Australia) will discuss the role of social media in personalized health.

In order to allow interaction with the health social media community we will post a serie of blogs entries about the different topics addressed in our panel.

What do you think? Is Social media Hype or Evidence-based Medicine?  Where do you think the research is going?  What are your thoughts?


Luis Fernandez-Luque

IMIA Social Media – Secretary