Stanford MedX Research

According to recent research from the Journal of Medical Internet Research the use of social media as an education and outreach platform has grown significantly over the past several years. While adoption of social media varied across hospitals, 94% utilize Facebook and slightly over 50% maintain a Twitter presence with still significant engagement on other platforms such as Yelp and Foursquare. Large, urban, private nonprofit, and teaching hospitals are more likely to have higher utilization of these accounts but rural healthcare providers as well as private physician groups are joining the ranks as well. Compare this to a random sampling of US hospitals in 2010, where only 21% of hospitals used any social media with only 18% percent maintaining a Facebook account and 16% actively using Twitter and the trend in online patient engagement is clear.

Social media can provide a great platform for education and community outreach but the overwhelming problem of maintaining engagement despite a poor signal-to-noise ratio remains a barrier to effective utilization. New user retention is notoriously poor with Twitter specifically with the high volume content feed the platform delivers. Even for those in the #hcsm and #healthIT communities, curating a personal content feed takes significant time, energy and motivation. Compounding this, the healthcare conversations within social media platforms often take place in an echo chamber and are ineffective in reaching the targeted patient populations.

This year Stanford MedX is teaming up with the healthcare Twitter analytics platform Symplur with a research challenge to address some of the barriers to leveraging social media in medical education and research. TeamFloriduh is excited to have been chosen as a finalist to present research aimed at connecting providers to patient populations in need and transforming healthcare in this new media space.

Symplur tracks analytics on over 895,263,550 Tweets, 14,209 Topics, 6,989 Hashtags and 2,702 Contributors and counting. These communities are heavily clustered within their respective groups with primary engagement coming from patient advocates and healthcare industry veterans. To narrow our research scope, we are looking initially at the suicide prevention chat community, #spsm along with other closely associated mental health outreach communities.

Social media has become an outlet for many of those struggling with self harm, depression and suicide, particularly within younger demographics. Unfortunately the communities like #spsm which aim to educate and advocate for those in need fail to connect meaningfully to their target audience, leaving individuals with increased feelings of not belonging, isolation, and hopeless. Addressing Twitter’s engagement problem specifically as it relates to suicide prevention will improve the quality of educational and industry conversations taking place online, as well as provide insight into how clinicians may better assess suicidality in remote or telehealth settings.

Our current literature review reveals a community understanding of the engagement problem but without any actionable solutions to closing this gap. Our analysis will start with text and semantic web analysis of the timelines from accounts of users who have completed suicide and from there identify trends in language use and platform engagement. Currently both Facebook and Twitter have peer reporting platforms for reporting at risk individuals but again these tools are disconnected from the advocacy communities engaging online.

Long term our goal is to broaden this analysis to other patient advocacy groups and bridge the gap between those in social media outreach and education to the patient populations who may be struggling with maintaining engagement and gaining resource access. We feel this has the potential to greatly supplement telehealth initiatives and healthcare outcomes in rural populations and underserved communities where mobile devices are the primary means of online access.


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