Monday, March 23, 2009

Guide to Building Healthcare Apps for Twitter: Some Categories of Healthcare Apps

I recently listed some some characteristics of communication enabled by Twitter. Based on these, there are several different categories of uses that can be envisioned for Twitter in relation to healthcare.

1. Information dissemination and Promotion. One of the obvious and most commonly uses of Twitter is as a medium for promotion and marketing. Hospitals, doctors, or health and wellness programs can disseminate information quickly through simple tweets. These could be tweets that provide general health information, or tweets about activities at an organization or even information specific to an individual or organizations. Several examples exist and include the MD Anderson Henry Ford Hospital which are engaging consumers through their twitter channels (@MDAndersonNews and @HenryFordNews respectively). The Henry Ford Hospital recently broadcast a live operation through tweets (demonstrating the use of the "now" characteristic of communication enable by Twitter).

2. Consumer Health APPs
a. Personalized and Responsive Search Engines (PRSE)- these apps provide personalized information resources based on a query tweet. An example is the TrialX/Twitter App that allows a user to QuTweet, say ' Looking for a diabetes trial for a female, 45 in NY' and the app returns a response with a link to a personalized search resul page on Trialx listing the matching clinical trials. See more details of PRSE

b. Self-quantification and monitoring APPs. Twitter users usually tweet with updates of their daily lifestyle activities that impact health behaviors such as diet, physical activity or smoking. Examples like "eating a McChicken", "heading to the gym", "got off a yoga class". These tweets or "digital lifestyle crumbs" can be monitored to provide lifestyle behavior modification recommendations. For example, sending a tweet back saying "did you know that a McChicken has 300+ calories" or providing an alternative suggestion to replace what people eat. Similarly, people can be motivated to exercise more or to quit smoking or a personalized link can be sent to the user containing list of people on twitter who are talking about quitting smoking (see twitter characteristic about propagating information along social networks).

3. Research Dissemination. One of the key challenges facing scientific research is dissemination of research findings into routine clinical practice (commonly referred to as the T2 translation block). Or even beyond to the general population. Several characteristics of current knowledge dissemination methods underline the need for new communication modalities. One, there is a considerable time lag or latency (in years) between the conduct of scientific work and it’s reporting, both to the scientific community and to the general public. Second, current methods of dissemination are primarily based on academic publications or via materials such as software code or tools, which have limited audience. Third, published work is more descriptive of “what was done and achieved” but lacks details of work as it happens and the decisions that are made in the research process.

Twitter can address these shortcomings - it is by default meant for "communicating the now". And second it reduces the barriers to data entry, allowing quick updates, of say , daily research activities to be communicated as they happen.

These are some just categories of potential use and in the next post, I will discuss APPs in the area of In-patient care, medical education and others. And ofcourse, will look at some pitfalls of the medium too.

Listing of some uses of Twitter in Healthcare As mentioned elsewhere

1. Using Twitter for Health Care by G. Antwerp
2. 140 Uses By Phil Baumann

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