It turns out mining social media for research and insights is not just for the consumer goods industry. More and more researchers are mining social media and online content for disease control. Recently Johns Hopkins conducted a study that revealed online data has several uses. Concentrating on those diseases that spread quickly such as the flu or influenza have been the primary focus. The data mining shows strong potential for tracking other diseases as well.
In order to create relative information it is important to create media filters to scrape the data first. Then one can look at the analytics to identify geographic trends and severity of an illness or disease. Are certain age groups being affected more than others? Which area of the country is showing higher outbreaks? This along with other data can help researchers in alerting the public.
While attending The Social Media Shake Up in Atlanta last week, one software provider discussed how they have been tracking medications and their affects on patients through social media mining. Additionally, Pharma is able to find "influencers" who have had success with their products and further engage with them to learn more. As the image below identifies, tracking where the heaviest chatter is occurring can be very beneficial when determining marketing spend and educational opportunities.
The American Medical Association has published a great article that discusses the use of social media in the medical industry.
While we must move forward with caution and ensure that a patient's privacy is the priority, I do think that this kind of information can be added to the other research methods used by the industry. Especially since it has been noted that 80% of people will research a medical problem or illness on the internet.