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Analysis and commentary on health care events and trends making headlines


Analyzing conversations on social networking sites enables researchers to identify trends, make predictions and lend insight into how social channels might be better employed in the future.

In this section, you will find research, analysis, and commentary on health care events and trends making headlines.  We aim to add to the conversation and elevate public discussion around trending health care topics by shedding light on the way individuals and groups talk about them online.


Protecting the Value of Medical Science in the Age of Social Media and “Fake News”

The digital age has brought with it a plethora of options beyond traditional media sources —including a host of varying interpretations for each story. That new media world, and the fast-moving spread of news over social media, that has made “fake news” a ubiquitous term.  While usually the term is used in the context of politics, “fake news” has also infiltrated medicine.  In a perspective piece in JAMA, Raina Merchant and David Asch outline strategies to protect scientific thought and break through the fake news noise.

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The 2013 US Government Shutdown (#Shutdown) and Health: An Emerging Role for Social Media

In October 2013, the government shutdown affected and furloughed millions of Americans and stopped or reduced the services of several departments and agencies that protect and promote health.  Using an observational study design and data publicly available through Twitter’s application programming interface (API), we performed a sentiment analysis to characterize the emotions associated with the content generated on Twitter during the government shutdown.  

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#Obamacare / #ACA

Twitter Sentiment Predicts ACA Marketplace Enrollment

Traditional metrics of the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health insurance marketplaces in the United States include public opinion polls and marketplace enrollment, which are published with a lag of weeks to months. In this rapidly changing environment, a real-time barometer of public opinion with a mechanism to identify emerging issues would be valuable.  We retroactively collected 977,303 Affordable Care Act (ACA) related tweets in March 2014 to evaluate Twitter’s role as a real-time barometer of public sentiment on the ACA and to determine if Twitter sentiment (the positivity or negativity of tweets) could be predictive of state-level marketplace enrollment. 

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The content of social media's shared images about Ebola: a retrospective study

Images represent an area ripe for study as a potential channel for communication about important public health events and topics, and for population health surveillance. We sought to evaluate public images from two popular image sharing platforms, Instagram (>300 million users) and Flickr (>92 million users), to characterize content related to Ebola, and compare the differences between the two platforms.  Our main objective was to explore how image-sharing platforms are used for information dissemination in public health emergencies.  

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In an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Roy Rosin, David Asch, and Raina Merchant explore why the highly publicized "Ice Bucket Challenge" to raise money for ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease research provides a promising communication model for other health care topics.

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Crowdsourcing healthcare costs: Opportunities and challenges for patient-centered price transparency

Efforts to improve health care price transparency have garnered significant attention from patients, policy makers, and health insurers. In response to increasing consumer demand, state governments, insurance plans, and health care providers are reporting health care prices. However, such data often do not provide consumers with the most salient information: their own actual out-of-pocket cost for medical care.  This article explores the challenges and potential opportunities for crowdsourcing out-of-pocket costs for health care consumers. 

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Public sentiment and discourse about Zika virus on Instagram

Social media have strongly influenced awareness and perceptions of public health emergencies, and a considerable amount of social media content is now shared through images, rather than text alone. This content can impact preparedness and response due to the popularity and real-time nature of social media platforms. We sought to explore how the image-sharing platform Instagram is used for information dissemination and conversation during the current Zika outbreak.  

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