Issue: October 2011
October 01, 2011
1 min read

Integrated social networks to help with emergency efforts

Merchant RM. N Engl J Med. 2011;365:289-291.

Issue: October 2011
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Social media networks are being integrated as tools for use in emergency situations, according to an editorial.

Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and YouTube have grown in the past few years, and now the public has been using them to supply help in areas where emergencies have occurred.

“During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services used a ‘Mommycast’ — viewed on YouTube or downloaded as an iTunes video podcast — to tell 1 million viewers what was happening, what to expect, and how to prevent the spread of influenza,” the editorialists wrote in a perspective article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

According to Raina M. Merchant, MD, of the department of emergency medicine at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, social networks offer more than informing the public where help is needed in emergency situations. Online applications, known as widgets, help keep the public up-to-date on new information to help prevent emergency situations. The CDC created an online application that provided credible health information that could be displayed on other websites.

Merchant and colleagues said now that technology is bringing the public closer together, it is important for physicians to keep up their guard. Although being able to log in to an area to help in an emergency situation is helpful, health care workers can never be sure whether the other people in the area are who they say they are, or that information given is correct.

“Although false messages that are broadcast widely are often rapidly corrected by other users, it is often difficult to separate real signals of health crisis or a material need from background noise and opportunistic scams,” Merchant and colleagues wrote. “Careful consideration must also be given to issues of privacy and the question of who should monitor data from social media (and for what).”

Merchant co-wrote the editorial with colleagues from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, HHS, Washington, D.C.

Disclosure: The writers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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