Twitter is new means for public to communicate health concerns

A study has found that social networking site Twitter is a new means for the public to communicate health concerns and seek solutions.

Researchers Natalie Heaivilin, Barbara Gerbert, Jens Page and Jennifer Gibbs all from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences, authored this study.

The researchers investigated the content of Twitter posts meeting search criteria relating to dental pain. A set of 1,000 tweets was randomly selected from 4,859 tweets over seven non-consecutive days.

The content was coded using pre-established, non-mutually exclusive categories, including the experience of dental pain, actions taken or contemplated in response to a toothache, impact on daily life and advice sought from the Twitter community.

After excluding ambiguous tweets, spam and repeat users, 772 tweets were analysed and frequencies calculated.

Of those tweets, 83 percent were primarily categorized as a general statement of dental pain, 22 percent as an action taken or contemplated, and 15 percent as describing an impact on daily activities.

Among the actions taken or contemplated, 44 percent reported seeing a dentist, 43 percent took an analgesic or antibiotic medication and 14 percent actively sought advice from the Twitter community.

“This paper highlights the potential of using social media to collect public health data for research purposes,” JDR Editor-in-Chief William Giannobile said.

“Utilizing Twitter is an interesting, early stage approach with potential impact in the assessment of large sets of population information,” he said.

The study, titled ‘Public Health Surveillance of Dental Pain via Twitter’, has been published in the Journal of Dental Research.

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