As of last week, Twitter has selected six of over 1300 proposals to access their enormous archives for big data insights.  Of these six projects, three focus on health.

HealthMaps, a project initiated by Boston’s Children’s Hospital, is looking to use the data to survey food borne gastrointestinal illnesses.  HealthMaps has in the past undertaken a project in collaboration with Merck to harness many different types data from Twitter and Facebook, such as posts, frequency of posting, and user analytics and demographics to research insomnia.

The University of Twente, in the Netherlands, aims to study how public health campaigns aimed at screenings and early detection of caners are spread as well as their level of effectiveness.  To do so, they intend to gather information on the various campaigns by looking at the associated hashtags, such as #Mamming, #Movember, #DaveDay, and #HPVReport (for breast, prostate, pancreatic, and cervical cancer, respectively).  Hiemstra, one of the lead researchers, said ‘the analysis will reveal if the campaigns led to word-of-mouth discussion, promotion and responses’.  The frequency of mentions will also play a role in assessing the level of effectiveness reached by the campaign.

Finally, the University of California San Diego will be investigating if there is a correlation between the general mood in an area and the pictures that are uploaded.  The team of researchers from UCSD, and The Graduate Center CUNY (City University of New York) will use Twitter’s big data to see if one can measure the average happiness level in a city by looking at the photos that Twitter users in this city are uploading to Twitter.  Mehrdad Yazdani, one of the lead investigators, said in a blog on the Calit2 website:  “Can visual characteristics of images shared on social media tell us something about the ‘moods’ of cities?  …  We will analyze one million tweeted images over the course of one year in specific U.S. cities, and test for correlations with other measures of happiness in the same cities.”

These being only three of well over one thousand submissions to look through the data, there is no doubt that there will be ever more instances of healthcare professionals and the health care industry taping into sources of big data to improve their workings.


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