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Is it possible to learn from health care social media analytics?

August 28, 2012

Early on in the life of the #hcsmca community, I have relied on The Healthcare Hashtag Project to generate #hcsmca transcripts of our weekly chats and to gather analytical data. I also use the site to register healthcare conference hashtags. I was very pleased when Symplur co-founders Howard Luks, MD (@hjluks), Tom Lee (@tmlfox) and Audun Utengen (@audvin) asked to consult with the #hcsmca community about learning from health care social media analytics during the chat on August 29th at 9pm ET. 

Guest post by Tom Lee and Audun Utengen  

Symplur logoSymplur is very excited to join the #hcsmca discussion this week! My colleague Tom Lee (@tmlfox) and I, Audun Utengen (@audvin), spend much of our time building and maintaining The Healthcare Hashtag Project, which is heavily used by healthcare tweet chat participants! Hopefully you have found some use of this community project as well. At Symplur we have recently looked closer at the public healthcare discussions on Twitter and questioned if and how we can learn from the wealth of data created by its users.

Just a couple of weeks ago we reached a major milestone with over 100 million healthcare tweets archived in our database! We are convinced that there is so much to learn from this data, that providers and patients can benefit from observing and analyzing behavior and discussions on Twitter. Are you?

We contributed topics 2a and 2b for this week’s chat, hoping to spur insightful discussions.

  • T2a: From a patient perspective, are analytics like Top Influencers helpful as a discovery tool in their disease experience?

The goal of the Healthcare Hashtag Project is to make the use of Twitter more accessible for providers and the healthcare community as a whole. By lowering the learning curve of Twitter with a database of relevant hashtags to follow, we hope to help new and existing users alike to find the conversations that are of interest and importance.

Earlier this year we added a disease section to the Healthcare Hashtag Project. We witnessed that more and more patients are adopting Twitter, especially patients with rare diseases or chronic diseases. It seems to us that they use Twitter to connect with fellow patients and share their experience and knowledge. With that in mind, we have highlighted a list of Top Influencers for each hashtag (and healthcare topic), do you think patients will find such lists useful to find people to follow within their disease or condition? Do influencer lists really work as a discovery tool?

See example:  #bcsm analytics

  • T2b: Do you see an ethical problem with companies mining people’s public tweets for analytical purposes? Where should the line be drawn?

Considering we now have over 100 million healthcare tweets in our database, one might question; what is really inside our database? What does this all mean? Everything we collect is public data. Twitter and tweets are totally public. Still, is there a ethical line to be drawn regarding mining this data?

All the analytics we do on our site is aggregation. In the process of attempting to learn from this data, the only option seems to group it all together and run our calculations. Obviously, this removes the individual element from the results, but this may not be the case with other types of analytics. Has the twitter user signed away it’s “privacy rights” at the moment they hit the tweet button, or should organizations doing healthcare social media analytics be restricted to aggregation only?

 We look forward to a lively discussion with the wonderful #hcsmca community! Thank you for the opportunity.
Editor’s note: The discussion was lively indeed. Read the transcript and the analytics (courtesy of of course).

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