The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) issued a challenge this week for developers to design Web-based applications that use Twitter to track health trends in real time. The contest, called ‘Now Trending – #Health in My Community,’ runs through June 1, 2012.
Social media trends can be powerful indicators of community health issues. However, current Web-based apps look backward, collating social media data to show how trends developed. The ASPR challenge would create a Web-based app to use social media data as an advance signal of a public health emergency.
“When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
With early identification, health officials can respond quickly, including advising people how to protect their health and minimize the spread of the disease. Minimizing the spread of disease could help the community bounce back quickly from an outbreak or a public health emergency – or potentially prevent a public health emergency, such as a pandemic, from occurring.
To win the challenge, the application must be innovative, scalable, dynamic, and user-friendly. The app must use open-source Twitter data to deliver a list automatically of the top five trending illnesses over a 24-hour period in a specified geographic region. The application must be able to send the data to state and local health agencies. These agencies, in turn, can cross-reference the data with traditional biosurveillance systems, build a baseline of trends, determine emerging public health threats, and advise the public on how to protect their health.
Contest information is available at the website: Now Trending – #Health in My Community Developer Challenge. This is the second such contest sponsored by ASPR in the past year. Through the first challenge, the ASPR ‘Facebook Lifeline App Challenge’, developers created a new Facebook application to establishing social connections in advance of an emergency. The winning lifeline app is expected to be available on Facebook this spring to help people create and share preparedness plans and get support from friends and family in any type of emergency.