Researchers Find Shocking Health Misunderstandings By Studying Tweets

Researchers from John Hopkins University have found that Americans are often treating their ailments with the wrong medications. They studied 1.5 million health-related tweets between May 2009 and October 2010, and uncovered this and several other facts about the health of the nation.

As reported by the BBC, the findings of this nearly 1.5 year study showed that a significant number of the tweeting population were choosing the wrong drugs for their illnesses. PhD student Michael J. Paul, who was part of the project, explains:

“We found that some people tweeted that they were taking antibiotics for the flu. But antibiotics don’t work on the flu, which is a virus, and this practice could contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problems.”

The researchers developed an algorithm to not only distinguish the health-related tweets from the non-health-related tweets, but also to diisregard those that appeared health related even when they were not, such as someone having a headache over high gas prices.

Interestingly, a significant portion of the tweets included enough information for the researchers to detect which state the tweeter was from. They used this data to observe health trends across the nation, observing that allergies generally started in the warmer states first, and then moved across the Midwest and Northeast.

Using Twitter to track health trends is nothing new. Researchers in Japan are creating a “weather network” for global illnesses which will show how and when certain illnesses spread across countries based on who is tweeting common symptoms. The healthcare industry itself has used Twitter to live-tweet surgeries and orchestrate emergency response in a health emergency. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more health-related Twitter research in the near future.