Tweets signaled COVID-19 outbreaks

Twitter and other social media platforms can serve as powerful tools to help predict outbreaks of both infectious and non-infectious diseases and should be viewed as more than just a breeding ground for misinformation.

This was recently confirmed in work by Gina Debogovich, senior director at the United Health Group and Dr. Danita Kiser (PhD) at Optum which they discussed at a session during last week’s Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting in Orlando, FL.

Their assessment of several million US tweets in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that information contained in tweets about COVID-10 was 7-10 days ahead of public case data.

The work of Debogovich and Dr. Kiser was based on the hypothesis that “social media conversations may contain insights into COVID prevalence and may be a leading indicator for cases and hospitalization.” Debogovich said Twitter was chosen as the social media platform to evaluate because meta-data with the tweets often contains the geographic location of the tweet.

In their study, natural language process techniques were used to identify COVID-19 related tweets and classify them into different categories. Statistical analysis and machine learning was then used to determine if the tweets were leading indicators of COVID-19 spread in a community.

In their initial work,  more than 15,000 geo-located tweets that contained either an address or the latitude and longitude of the tweeter were hand classified into 7 primary categories and further divided by proximity or no proximity.

The categories used were:

  • Confirmed (the tweet stated the subject had or believe they had COVID-19)
  • Showing symptoms (the tweet indicated the subject had symptoms of COVID-19)
  • Perished (subject had died as a result of COVID-19)
  • Recovered
  • Quarantine (subject was in quarantine)
  • News (usually about a news article related to COVID-19)
  • Hoax (message contained misinformation)

Tweets were further categorized by whether they contained location data or not.

Having developed the categories, Debogovich and Dr. Kiser then assessed 100 million tweets posted from February 2020 to February 2021. They found that in the first phases of the pandemic public case data lagged tweets by 7-10 days on average. However this was reduced to 2 days in second wave of pandemic.

As a result of these findings, Debogovich and Dr. Kiser concluded that Twitter data could be useful for predicting future COVID-19 cases but the accuracy depended on the dynamics of the pandemic and tweets were most beneficial during times in which cases were rising or trending up.

Waste-water analysis and other tools are helpful in predicting infectious disease outbreaks but digital surveillance could be more effective in predicting spikes in symptoms, said Debogovich.

The study confirms early research done during Twitter’s infancy in which researchers showed how tweets could be used to predict outbreaks of influenza and other diseases. During the presentation, Debogovich said the rapid analysis of the huge amounts of data available on social media platforms remain underutilized for research and public health purposes. Mining data from social media is “hard work” and complex but could be the next big thing in predicting disease outbreaks, she concluded.

Clinicians express views on the digital future at #HIMSS22

The majority (56%) of clinicians participating in a large, global survey believe that “the majority” of their clinical decisions in the future will be made with tools using artificial intelligence (AI)

However, in the poll of about 3000 physicians and nurses conducted in 111 countries (including Canada) by Ipsos for Elsevier Health,  the majority of respondents expressed concern that medical and nursing school training was not keeping up with the need to educate them properly with the knowledge and skills needed to use modern technologies.

Findings from The Clinician of the Future study were released during the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual meeting here and discussed during a sponsored session by Dr. Ian Chuang, chief medical officer for Elsevier Health.

Meanwhile results from HIMSS own State of Healthcare survey conducted at the end of last year and including 359 physicians from five countries was also releasee and discussed at the meeting. That report confirmed clinicians feel digital transformation is well underway with 90% of respondents identifying ongoing digital initiatives within their own organizations.

Interestingly, while many health system leaders polled in the HIMSS survey had reservations about the pace of digital transformation within healthcare, 16% of US clinicians said they felt their organizations had completed the transformation process and about half felt the process was well underway.

According to U.S.-based clinicians, tools that do not fit into clinical workflows, lack of proper training and lack of clear communication within the health organization are impeding transformation efforts. However, UK clinicians identified lack of clear communication as the top barrier to digital transformation.

While 88% of clinicians in the HIMSS survey reported their digital skills have improved over the past year and 79% reported choosing to use digital health tools on their own initiative, respondents in the Elsevier survey were less confident of their skills in using new digital technologies.

Of those responding to the survey, 69% feel the widspread use of digital health technology will be a challenging burden on clinician responsibilities if clinicians are not appropriately supported. In addition, 83% felt training needs to be overhauled to keep pace with intro of new technologies. Dr. Chuang said there is a sense that it is not just new information that needs to be taught but rather a shift in the whole medical education paradigm. As one US clinician quoted in the report said: “There’s no time spent separately to learn technology. That education needs to be instilled into the system to ensure all doctors are educated.”

The survey also found that 69% of clinicians globally felt overwhelmed with the current volume of data they had to deal with. While 38% of the clinicians felt receiving training and education in order to remain current will be the top educational priority over the next decade, a similar percentage believe training in the effective use of digital health technologies to assist in the delivery of patient care remotely will be the second priority