BMJ Qual Saf doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2015-004489
  • Original research

Linking social media and medical record data: a study of adults presenting to an academic, urban emergency department

  1. Raina M Merchant2,5
  1. 1Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2Penn Medicine Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  3. 3Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  4. 4Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  5. 5Department of Emergency Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  6. 6Operations and Information Management Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  7. 7Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Raina M Merchant, Department of Emergency Medicine, Penn Medicine Social Media and Health Innovation Lab University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA; Raina.merchant{at}
  • Received 14 June 2015
  • Revised 14 September 2015
  • Accepted 16 September 2015
  • Published Online First 13 October 2015


Background Social media may offer insight into the relationship between an individual's health and their everyday life, as well as attitudes towards health and the perceived quality of healthcare services.

Objective To determine the acceptability to patients and potential utility to researchers of a database linking patients’ social media content with their electronic medical record (EMR) data.

Methods Adult Facebook/Twitter users who presented to an emergency department were queried about their willingness to share their social media data and EMR data with health researchers for the purpose of building a databank for research purposes. Shared posts were searched for select terms about health and healthcare.

Results Of the 5256 patients approached, 2717 (52%) were Facebook and/or Twitter users. 1432 (53%) of those patients agreed to participate in the study. Of these participants, 1008 (71%) consented to share their social media data for the purposes of comparing it with their EMR. Social media data consisted of 1 395 720 posts/tweets to Facebook and Twitter. Participants sharing social media data were slightly younger (29.1±9.8 vs 31.9±10.4 years old; p<0.001), more likely to post at least once a day (42% vs 29%; p=0.003) and more likely to present to the emergency room via self-arrival mode and have private insurance. Of Facebook posts, 7.5% (95% CI 4.8% to 10.2%) were related to health. Individuals with a given diagnosis in their EMR were significantly more likely to use terms related to that diagnosis on Facebook than patients without that diagnosis in their EMR (p<0.0008).

Conclusions Many patients are willing to share and link their social media data with EMR data. Sharing patients have several demographic and clinical differences compared with non-sharers. A database that merges social media with EMR data has the potential to provide insights about individuals’ health and health outcomes.

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