Twitter moves beyond a social tool & into the realm of medical research

Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine researchers are using Twitter to examine patient awareness of cardiovascular disease risks and map disease prevalence.

The researchers recently completed a pilot analysis of archived tweets on cardiovascular disease. They looked through tweets posted between 2009 and 2015 and found 500,000 English-language tweets that related to cardiovascular disease and originated from the United States. They published their findings in JAMA Cardiology.

The analysis found that users who tweeted about cardiovascular themes were older and more likely to be female than the average Twitter user. The tweets mostly focused on risk factors, awareness and management of cardiovascular disease and related conditions. Tweets also included facts, statistics, tips and links to new disease research.

"We are currently also working on using Twitter for epidemiologic purposes and mapping hypertension and diabetes across the United States using Twitter data," said Raina M. Merchant, MD, senior author of the study, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of Penn's Social Media and Health Innovation Lab.

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