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Social media and healthcare quality improvement: a nascent field
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  1. Megan L Ranney1,
  2. Nicholas Genes2,3
  1. 1Emergency Digital Health Innovation Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital/Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
  2. 2Department of Emergency Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA
  3. 3Department of Genetics & Genomic Science, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Megan L Ranney, Emergency Digital Health Innovation Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital/Alpert Medical School, Brown University, 593 Eddy St, Claverick 2, Providence, RI 02903, USA; mranney{at}lifespan.org

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Two articles1 ,2 describe the use of social media to describe or potentiate healthcare quality improvement. Taken together, these articles point to an exciting—but still nascent—trend. We hope that these two pilot studies will be taken as a call to future research rather than as definitive reports.

The first article1 describes the proportion of emergency department (ED) patients who consent for researchers to download their Facebook and Twitter data. The novelty of this study lies in its underlying premise: accessing patients’ social media data could, in theory, permit better awareness of patients’ health status and risks, and thereby permit real-time interventions and improved patient engagement. To our knowledge, this study is the first to show the acceptability, feasibility and limitations of accessing patients’ social media data. It thereby gives hope that incorporating social feeds into healthcare may be possible.

This study had three important, and surprising, findings. First, the authors report that 52% of ED patients reported using Twitter or Facebook. This fraction is much lower than found in other urban EDs (eg, 67% of ED patients in a 2012 manuscript)3 or in national surveys (62% of all US adults, according to recent Pew data4). Second, of those patients using social media, 53% agreed to participate in the study, and approximately two-thirds of those agreed to have data downloaded. These statistics could be interpreted as encouraging—representing a higher-than-expected proportion of ED patients who are willing to share their social media feeds with researchers. …

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