“The combination of Twitter and epidemiology presents an interesting opportunity: What if doctors twittered about symptoms they observed and diagnoses they made? What if that information was aggregated in a way that helped track disease outbreaks in real-time, share treatment plans, and save lives?”-Chris Thornman



The Advantage of Real-Time Information

During any disease outbreak, time is of the essence. Many government and health agencies around the world aggregate their data on potential outbreaks but do so on a weekly or semi-weekly basis at best. The technologically primitive nature of the vast majority of the world’s health care systems prohibits catching most outbreaks in their infancy. Even if a disease outbreak is discovered, that outbreak may only be realized at the local or regional level. When you’re talking about potentially killer diseases – Swine flu as a recent example – an advance warning of even a couple of days could mean thousands of lives would be saved.

The real time nature of a Twitter EMR system would allow epidemiologists to get a jump on disease outbreaks. Much like the trending topics section of Twitter, symptoms and diagnoses could be tracked by their frequency as they’re submitted by doctors. Algorithms can be developed to push relevant diseases and their diagnosis codes to the top of epidemiologists’ tracking lists.

Limiting Privacy Concerns

Naturally, there are going to be privacy concerns about doctors tweeting patient information out into the digital world. However, no personal identifying information is required to track diseases in this scenario. The only name associated with the posting of this health information would be the doctor’s. Even that may be an alias.

The combination of social media and EMRs, in some form or another, will undoubtedly be part of the future of tracking disease outbreaks. The how and when of that process remains complicated, dependent on health agencies, governments and the doctors themselves to implement the appropriate systems. However, the “viral” spread of Twitter leads us to believe that physicians may not have to wait around for bureaucracies to organize an epidemiological social network. Like the Iranian opposition party, they may organize it themselves with Twitter.


This is from Chris Thornman’s thought provoking article. Some people are growing increasinly concerned about their privacy and think that is just one more way for their privacy to be invaded. Is it about government watch or a true way for social medias like Twitter to help in being more effective against finding or tracking diseases?  

If you are a doctor, would you consider using Twitter for said purposes?