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Apr 5
The Public Health Benefits Of Social Media

Recently I attended the 2007 Centers for Disease Control Leaders to Leaders Conference.  It focused on New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s concept of a “flat world.”

We often talk about the benefits of social media for individual consumers and healthcare professionals, but less about its impact on public health.  Attending the conference got me thinking about how social media is helping to improve health on a global scale.  Following are some examples of relevant social media tools.

Wikis: Wikis are becoming an increasingly important tool for collaboration and knowledge sharing.  They are also helping to aggregate information about disease and potential public health crises.  

One prominent example is the Flu Wiki.  Co-founded by Dr. Greg Dworkin, this wiki filled an important information void during the initial public conversation about bird flu.

A new site that is gaining a following is Ask Dr Wiki, “a medical wiki with the goal of creating a collective online memory for physicians, fellows, residents, and medical students.”  This wiki was recently profiled in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Social Networks:  I’ve spoken a lot about the benefits of social networks and one prominent one, Sermo.  Over the past few months, Sermo’s physician user base has significantly increased.  Doctors are using the site to share information about treatment practices and to track disease outbreaks, including the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Other Web 2.0 Tools:  There are other social media tools that use the “wisdom of crowds” to track illness. One new site, Who Is Sick?, “provides current and local sickness information to the public - without the hassle of dealing with hospitals or doctors.” While the site is in its infancy, it has interesting information and should be very helpful for parents.  I could also see folks from the CDC using it to help track disease – if more people start to contribute to the site.  

As these examples illustrate social media is clearly playing an ever more important role in health.  

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