Twitter Could Help Predict and Prevent Asthma Flare-Ups


Tweets about asthma could provide clues to asthma-related emergency room visits.

Tweets about asthma could provide clues to asthma-related emergency room visits.

New research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting suggests that health departments could use social media to prevent asthma flare-ups by distributing information about triggers to avoid and the importance of taking asthma medications.

Researchers from the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation collected tweets between October 2013 and June 2014 to examine the time-dependent link between real-time Twitter data and asthma-related emergency department visits or hospital admissions in Texas.

The researchers used filters for common asthma terms and then classified those tweets based on their distinguishing characteristics into 2 groups: asthma-relevant tweets, where the user discussed his or her own ongoing asthma symptoms, or a non-asthma-related tweet, where asthma was used as a comment in another way.

The geo-location feature on the tweets was also used in conjunction with data obtained from the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Foundation, which is made up of more than 70 area hospitals.

The study authors compiled 17,500 tweets, of which 3810 (22%) were asthma-related. Meanwhile, there were 22,333 asthma emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

The researchers uncovered a positive association between the average number of asthma-relevant tweets in a 7-day period and the number of asthma emergency department visits and hospital admissions. A similar link was found in other time windows of tweets (1, 2, 3, or 7 days prior) involving asthma-relevant content and asthma-related hospital visits (1, 2, 3, or 7 days later).

“We live in the era of Big Data,” said study author Sudha Ram, PhD, in a press release. “Our research is innovative and unique because it harnesses the power of Big Data from social media and other sources to address the problem of anticipating emergency department visits for a chronic condition—in this case, asthma—in close to real-time conditions.”

The researchers suggested their findings could improve patients’ overall health and decrease the number of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

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