Ebola outbreak demonstrates value of Twitter for healthcare

The healthcare industry can learn from the social media response to West Africa's 2014 Ebola outbreak, according to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Sunmoo Yoon, R.N., Ph.D., and Michelle Odlum, both of Columbia University Medical Center's School of Nursing, analyzed more than 42,000 Ebola-related tweets from the week of July 24, 2014--during which the first American was diagnosed with the virus, Nigeria reported its first case and Sierra Leone declared a national state of emergency.

During this period, Yoon and Odlum found, Twitter functioned as a major information hub ahead of official announcements from institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Nigerian Ministry of Health. Users tweeted on the subject of Ebola nearly 1,500 times in the three days before the Nigerian government's official announcement, according to the study.

A deeper analysis of tweet content found risk factors, spread and location, education and health information and compassion for the affected nations. The results demonstrate the need to expand the definition of public health outbreak surveillance, the authors write, with Twitter serving as a valuable medium for engagement with the public during outbreaks, particularly in providing information early.

"Twitter adoption in African countries like Nigeria has been exponentially increasing and it's clear that Twitter is a useful resource for spreading breaking health news in these West African countries," they wrote in an announcement. "The results of this analysis indicate how Twitter can be used to support early warning systems in outbreak surveillance efforts in settings where surveillance systems are not optimal."

More than 75,000 healthcare professionals currently use Twitter, according to a 2014 study. The platform is ideal for healthcare professionals due to the chance to learn from colleagues, improve public health and share their own knowledge in a public forum, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the announcement