Tweeting the Way to Health

The newly created “Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health” at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine under the leadership of Raina Merchant, MD, Associate Vice President for the University of Penn Health System, has developed partnerships with Wharton, Annenberg, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

The partnerships are working together to map out a strategy and process to systematically evaluate how social media platforms affect health, and develop new ways for clinicians to improve care delivery through these channels.

Dr. Merchant led the “MyHeartMap Challenge, a crowdsourcing contest that had people in communities within Philadelphia identify, photograph, and submit locations for lifesaving Automated External Defibrillators (AED).

Using the data obtained from contest participants, her team created a mobile app that now maps AEDs throughout the city and puts the information out there to bystanders who can act quickly and save a life when cardiac arrest strikes.

Dr, Merchant describes her team’s research as probing the “social mediome” which is a way to collectively describe people or groups that have their digital data merged with their health record data.

So far, her work has demonstrated the value of mining Yelp reviews for information about patients’ experiences in hospitals, mapped ways in which social media may be harnessed for emergency preparedness and response, and shown that information donated by patients from their Facebook accounts may be paired with the EMRs to yield new insights on their health.

New research areas to be undertaken by Penn’s Center for Digital Health include identifying factors linked to depression and obesity, and studying social medical to trace language changes that may be associated with Alzheimer’s or other types of cognitive decline.

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