By Siobhán O’Connor (@shivoconnor):
The 17th International Symposium for Health Information Management Research 2015 (http://www.ishimr2015.com/) was a real eye opener for me as I got an insight into the power of Twitter analytics and how it can be applied in public health research. A poster presentation by Professor Peter Bath (@PeterABath) from the University of Sheffield on one of his doctoral students’ work demonstrated the value of this amazingly powerful digital health tool. Wasim Ahmed (@was3210) the PhD student in question is using Twitter to understand the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa by collating all the hashtags on #Ebola.
Speaking to Wasim after the presentation I was shocked to hear his dataset was in the region of 26 million!!! No small feat for a PhD student to get to grips with. Not surprisingly his poster described the methodological challenges with gathering and analysing this data and some possible solutions for other researchers to follow in the future. No doubt Twitter will become an important data source for numerous health related topics, in particular global health, as more people get online and share their experiences and ideas on the platform. Researchers are only starting to tap into its potential to monitor health related events as they happen in real-time and the wide ranging impact they have on people across the world.
Determined to show me some of the nifty analytics that could be done on Twitter, Wasim encouraged me to tweet through the conference at St John’s University in York and showed me his results at the end. It turns out you can very quickly do a lot of clever things on the back of Twitter data such as network analysis and visualisation through a free open-source (love it!!) piece of software called the NodeXL (@nodexl) which creates network overviews and graphs of data through Microsoft Excel. It’s such a quick and easy process that Wasim had the analysis of all the Twitter chat on #ISHIMR2015 done by that very evening the conference finished, after I’d returned to the University of Manchester two hours later. What a turnaround – if only all research analysis was that quick and easy!! PhD students would be laughing!
As it turns out, thanks to Wasim’s subtle prompting I became the “most influential” Twitter chatterer at the conference thanks to retweets and favourites by other people who were attending and following online. As you can see from the more advanced analysis image the main discussion revolved around one of the plenary speakers, Professor Frances Mair (@FrancesMair), from the University of Glasgow, and her talk on “Bridging the Translational Gap: Key Issues in Health Informatics Implementation” as she raised several thought provoking ideas around treatment burden and how digital tools can both add to and reduce this for patients.
Well it’s certain, Twitter is becoming an important digital tool that will not just help patients in the future but also public health agencies and frontline doctors, nurses and other staff on the ground by providing them with rich data from which they can make critical decisions to solve health issues facing our society.