Tag Archives: social media

Social Media Supporting a Public Health Emergency by the Boston Public Health Commission

Written by:

  • Anita Barry, MD, MPH, Director, Infectious Disease Bureau at Boston Public Health Commission
  • Craig Regis, MPH, Project Manager, Infectious Disease Bureau at Boston Public Health Commission

FLU_TwitterEffective and timely communication with the public has always been a critical function of local public health departments.  Whether it be alerting citizens to recent health events or distributing informative materials on disease prevention, risk communication requires public health practitioners to be on the forefront of the communication revolution.

Since the advent of the Internet, social media has revolutionized the way the public obtains information.  Though certain populations still rely heavily on traditional media such as television, radio, and print, the technological advances have caused new information services to emerge.  Social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook are widely used throughout the world, and more and more people are relying on them as their primary source for information.  Smartphones are providing immediate, on-demand access to social networking services.  As smartphone usage is higher among Black and Hispanic mobile phone users, social media also presents an opportunity to reach some vulnerable populations.1  In this new era of instant, crowd-sourced, mass communication, public health departments are using these new tools to quickly and effectively disseminate important information, especially in urgent situations where time is of the essence.

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) was faced with such a situation in early 2013.  By early January, Boston had seen over ten times as many reported influenza cases than in all of the 2011-12 season.  The number of people going to emergency rooms and other healthcare sites for influenza like illness also markedly exceeded the prior season, creating a large burden on the healthcare system in the city, particularly the hospitals.  The Mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency on Wednesday, January 9, 2013, in order to raise awareness and to mobilize the city’s resources, including encouraging health centers to hold free influenza vaccination clinics that following weekend (January 12-13, 2013).

BPHC was faced with the task of not only keeping an anxious public informed about best practices for influenza care and prevention, but also constantly assembling and circulating a rapidly changing schedule of free influenza vaccination clinics at neighborhood health centers in response to the emergency.  No sooner was the interactive “flu calendar” updated than newly scheduled clinics required additional postings to BPHC’s public website.  The dynamic, real-time nature of social media platforms made them the best method to keep the public adequately informed about a constantly evolving situation.

BPHC’s communication infrastructure includes Twitter with tweets in both English and Spanish, Facebook, YouTube, and a blog.  BPHC’s twitter handle, @HealthyBoston, constantly tweeted updates, linked to factsheets, directed the public to the online calendar for vaccination clinics, and encouraged residents to be vaccinated.  The campaign extended to BPHC’s Facebook page, which also provided a direct link to the clinic calendar.  These platforms allowed for the swift response required during a public health crisis, and facilitated a surge in visitors to the BPHC website.  The influenza section received over 20,000 hits in less than two weeks during the emergency.  Over 80% of these hits were from new visitors, and over 16,000 were to check the clinic calendar.  The response also resulted in an increase in Twitter followers.  In weeks leading up to the flu emergency, @HealthyBoston averaged about 60 new followers per week, but gained over 600 new followers over the next month.

Social media played a pivotal role in keeping the public up to date about an ever-evolving situation with timely and accurate information.  Currently, @HealthyBoston has nearly 11,000 Twitter followers, and over 3,000 Facebook “likes.”  Recognizing the potential of social media to reach a younger audience, the BPHC Communications team launched a youth-oriented twitter handle last month called @WhatheHealth.  Though it takes a dedicated staff and time to build momentum, utilizing social media in public health communications is worth the investment.  It has the potential to increase the presence of an organization, broaden its audience, and revolutionize public health campaigns.

1Kellogg, Don. “Among Mobile Phone Users, Hispanics, Asians Are Most-Likely Smartphone Owners in the U.S.” Nielsenwire.com. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/among-mobile-phone-users-hispanics-asians-are-most-likely-smartphone-owners-in-the-u-s/

Follow BPHC on Twitter @HealthyBoston and Facebook

The Flu Strikes Back – 7 Free Online Tools to Guide You through the Flu Season

If you look around the office, it’s no surprise that more coworkers are out sick. Regions across the U.S. are experiencing an early influenza season, with activity elevated nationally.

Be informed and share these tools with your community to stay strong against the flu this season.

flu view scrnshot1. CDC Flu View  is a flu activity and surveillance site that provides weekly influenza surveillance in the Unites States. In addition to the website, its mobile app gives you options to: explore Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) Activity Levels across the US; view ILI trends over several weeks; and get on-demand access to state health department websites for local surveillance information.

2. CDC Influenza Application for Clinicians and Health Care Professionals gives the latest recommendations and influenza activity updates on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch (Android support will be added in a future update). The app will automatically update information and content when your device is connected to the Internet. With this application, you can:

  • View updated information on national flu activity
  • Find influenza vaccination recommendations endorsed by CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
  • Obtain information on diagnosis and treatment of influenza, including antiviral treatment recommendations by CDC and the ACIP
  • Obtain information on laboratory testing for influenza
  • Find CDC recommendations on influenza infection control
  • View videos of CDC subject matter experts discussing influenza topics
  • Order official CDC designed print products for posting in the workplace or distributing to patients.

3. MappyHealth is the winner of the “Now Trending – #Health in My Community” challenge hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, mines Twitter data to show diseases trending in communities. The data is presented through several visualizations which include maps and graphs. For more information on MappyHealth, see our interview with them here.

google flu trends scrnshot4. Google Flu Trends  aggregates search terms in real time to estimate flu activity around the world. Google notes on their Flu Trends page that searches using flu related terminology have a close correlation to people having actual flu symptoms, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The current map (as of 1/17/13) of the U.S. shows mostly “intense” flu activity.

5. Flu Near You and Vaccine Finder are administered through HealthMap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. Flu Near You is a popular tool among the public health community and gives a weekly reporting of influenza like symptoms (also an open data set), and shows where people are reporting symptoms within their community. A component of Flu Near You is Vaccine Finder which helps users find locations offering flu shots. Per the website, Flu Near You allows the user to do the following:

  • Complete quick surveys to advance our collective understanding of the flu
  • See flu activity in your area at the regional or state level
  • Explore flu trends around the world with Google Flu trends
  • Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find nearby locations offering flu shots or nasal spray flu vaccine
  • Connect to local public health links
  • Receive customized email disease alerts at your location
  • Learn more about flu news, information, and resources at flu.gov
  • Explore the RSS feed on updates on nearby flu outbreaks and related flu news
  • Browse the Disease Daily to discover summaries of important outbreaks and expanded coverage through the Outbreaks 101 news section

6. Flu.gov is a Department of Health and Human Services site that has all the resources you need from print materials to widgets you can add to your website. Flu.gov provides information on symptoms, treatments, and vaccination locations for influenza.

7. Flu Defender is the third place winner of CDC’s Flu App Challenge and is a iOS app that raises awareness about influenza while providing useful information on: vaccine finder, flu activity, symptom identifier, etc. The app uses the following data sources: CDC Weekly Flu Activity Report, RSS Feed of Influenza Updates, RSS Feed of Influenza Podcasts, CDC.gov/flu website and print materials, CDC Flu Twitter feed and the Flu.gov website.

Do you know of other free online flu tools? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Making Ideas Grow in Every Community – A Brief Summary of the Social Good Summit for Local Public Health

A powerful, engaging, and global conversation took place at the 2012 Social Good Summit in New York City (September 22-24). The deeper message behind the projects, initiatives, and innovations, was to become engaged in something greater than yourself to make a change in this world. Now more than ever before, as local communities within this broader global context, we’re at a better place to engage in innovative solutions for problem solving. The Summit was a collaboration of Mashable, United Nations Foundation, 92Y, United Nations Development Programme, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ericsson.

Local health departments need to keep up with today’s technologies but also prepare for the challenges and opportunities that tomorrow brings. Some of these stories show how cost-effective solutions can come about in low resource settings. I hope to inspire you with these stories and move you to develop new initiatives in your community.

While you read these stories, consider how similar ideas can be initiated in your community.

  • What resources are needed?
  • What kind of public-private partnership should you look for? Which organizations should you approach?
  • What kind of business plan should you create?

Unleashing The Power Of Open Innovation In Government
Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, the White House

A highly energetic Todd Park, shared his role and responsibility by focusing on these three primary tasks:

  • Make new data available to the public;
  • Take already available but unusable data and make it usable;  and
  • Make entrepreneurs and innovators aware of the government data.

Park said “You take the data that’s already there and jujitsu it, put it in machine-readable form, let entrepreneurs take it and turn it into awesomeness.”

As a result of his initiatives at both HHS and now the White House, Park has inspired developers to create “…products or services helping tens of thousands of people improve their health service experience around the country.”

For more information visit http://www.hdiforum.org.

Video link: http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/3987528

Can Mobile Phones Eliminate Pediatric AIDS?
Josh Nesbit, CEO, Medic Mobile
Anu Gupta, Director in Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson
Robert Fabricant, Vice President of Creative, Frog Design

The answer to the above question? “No,” said Josh Nesbit, it isn’t the device that will end it but the people using the mobile device that can.

According to Nesbit “A billion people will never see a doctor in their lives, but 90% of the world’s population is covered by mobile.”  He followed to say, “50% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa own phones.”

His organization’s efforts have already seen results in initiatives in India. Vaccination coverage has gone from 60% to 90% coverage.

An interesting example he shared was of a $15 camera device that can take holographic pictures to remotely analyze blood samples. That in itself shows how far a mobile device can go to support areas with no clinics and health services.

For more information on Nesbit’s organization, http://medicmobile.org.

Video link: http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/3988840

How Google Earth is Changing the World
Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager, Google Earth Outreach & Earth Engine Google, Inc.

We all have our preference in search engines, but most people know how far Google has gone to create innovations beyond just simple searches.  Rebecca Moore shared examples of Google Earth Outreach. Now you ask, what is this service? Google Earth Outreach provides tools to nonprofits to help raise awareness, increase decision-making and engage stakeholders.

This service provides free versions of the following tools but advanced, fee-based versions are available as well: Google Earth; Google Earth Engine; Google Maps Engine; Open Data Kit; Spreadsheet Mapper; Custom Maps for Google Maps; Google Fusion Tables; Google Maps API; Google Street View; and Google Map Maker.

How are these services helpful to public health?

Researchers are constantly making discoveries through Google Earth. For instance, scientists discovered a rare type of Coral Reef on the remote shores of Australia. The area was scheduled for oil mining, and once the discovery was made the plans for drilling were stopped. Moore explained how Google Earth enables users to tell a story. For example, the effects of coal mining that includes mountain top removal, which results in debris in communities and subsequent health risks. The localities, especially those indicated sensitive locations on the map, like schools and hospitals can then be mapped to better understand the direct health risk to the community. This Google tool combined with public health knowledge and urban planning can help spur community activism to fight against activity that poses dangerous health risks to the population.

Can your health department use this tool to tell a story?

Video link: http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/3991619

Shrinking the “Digital Divide”: The Future of Mobile
Larry Irving, Co-Founder, Mobile Alliance for Global Go

Being connected with a purpose was the message that Larry Irving delivered along with needing to focus on outcomes.

Mobile connectivity is changing lives and providing promising solutions to tough problems. Although, as Irving said, “This is the most important device ever for changing the world, but we have to work together to make it work the way we want it to work.” Solutions are hard according to Irving, but his advice was that, “You’re talking about changing business models. You’re talking about changing cultures. You’re talking about changing operational models. And we have to sit down together and figure out how this is going to work.”

His advice for mobile optimization is:

  • Hackathons should focus less on solely about a technology and instead focus on how technology can help fill gaps in society and social needs;
  • Bring investors and entrepreneurs to the table; and
  • Celebrate individuals and groups that are making social good happen with mobile solutions.

Video link: http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/4025900

Digital Disaster Relief
Wendy Harman, Director of Social Strategy, American Red Cross
David Kobia, Director of Technology Development, Ushahidi
Samantha Murphy, Mashable

Responding and being aware of disastrous situations is indeed a hard job. That’s why the American Red Cross is expanding its services by giving the public a seat at the table. Wendy Harman said this has two components: 1) aggregating big data for situational awareness 2) building a digital volunteer task-force. I recently participated in one of their social media trainings as part of their volunteer task-force and believe that they are moving in the right direction to create a larger digital presence. By leveraging their Digital Operations Center and the use of digital volunteers, they can extend their services through multiple platforms in a new way. To learn more about the American Red Cross’ Digital Operations Center, read here.

Ushahidi stands for “witness” in Swahili. It is an open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile. David Kobia said that the open source platform allows for data to be visualized on a map, showing stories of different occurrences during crises.  For more information, http://www.ushahidi.com/about-us.

Can local health departments use such tools to visualize important data in their communities?

Video link:  http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/4026562

Using Mapping Technology to End Polio
Nicole Newnham, Documentary Film Maker & Writer, The Revolutionary Optimists
Linord Moudou, Anchor & Reporter, Voice Of America
Sherine Guirguis, Communications Specialist, UNICEF

Why is it so important now more than ever to end polio? “If we don’t finish polio now, it will come back,” says Sherine Guirguis. Now we’re closer than ever to eradicate this disease and with support of technology, we’re coming closer to ending it.

Map Your World, is a multi-platform project that puts the power of new technologies into the hands of young change agents, enabling them to map, track, and improve the health of their own communities – and then share their stories of change with each other and with the world. A young group of children called the Daredevils of West Bengal, made their mission to increase polio vaccination in their community (due to a personal story of a child they knew who died of polio). Using paper megaphones and going door to door these children advocated for vaccination. Their tracking only went so far, but with the help of documentary film makers they were able to adopt an open source technology that enables them to keep track of their progress.

How can we engage our communities and target major health issues by creating low cost innovative tools?

Video link: http://new.livestream.com/Mashable/SGS/videos/4028200