National Library of Medicine looks to social media to help it improve

The National Library of Medicine has put out a call for a software system to mine social media for insight into how users access its data and how it can improve.

It plans to scrutinize social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogs, news sites, discussion boards and video- and image-sharing sites, according to a solicitation.

"The worldwide explosion in the use of social media provides a unique opportunity for sampling sentiment and use patterns of NLM's 'customers' and for comparing NLM to other sources of health-related information," the solicitation says.

NLM plans to study extent of use, context for which information was sought and effects of various health-related announcements and events on use patterns including:

  • Comparison of NLM mentions with mentions of "competitors"
  • Identification of urgent information requests for which NLM could "push" vetted information free of advertising or commercial interest
  • Effects of topical health issues such as "mad cow" or West Nile Virus or disasters on use of NLM resources

In a second project, NLM wants to study how health professionals and researchers use its resources. That includes searching for citations of papers available through its databases and how many citations are affected when it redesigns its database features.

The chosen contractor will have a year to design and install a system capable of performing complex queries, as well as to train at least two staff members on its use. 

As part of the National Institutes of Health, NLM is the world's largest largest biomedical library. In addition to providing a mobile version of its PubMed.gov website, its forays into new media include an array of other apps, including MyMedList, which allows patients to manage their medications, and LactMed, which provides information about medications and breastfeeding.

The Internet, social media and the push toward patient-centered healthcare combined are creating what researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School are calling a "perfect storm" in the ways patients and healthcare organizations connect.

Two studies published this month found multiple benefits for patients using social networks devoted to specific health conditions, including the ability to connect with others facing similar challenges and the potential to improve treatment by providing providers with a better picture of what patients face.

To learn more:
- read the solicitation

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