Mining Twitter Hashtags for Bad Drug Interactions

Over the years, its not been uncommon to get asked what value I see in Twitter. While my typical answer revolves around the value I get from it personally (keeping up, observing trends, sharing items of value, healthy stimulation from the seemly random sharing from others), this article, “New Role for Twitter: Early Warning System for Bad Drug Interactions” from the University of Vermont, provides an example of something pretty compelling from the academic realm.

And the research team also aims to help overcome a long-standing problem in medical research: published studies are too often not linked to new scientific findings, because digital libraries “suffer infrequent tagging,” the scientists write, and updating keywords and metadata associated with studies is a laborious manual task, often delayed or incomplete.

“Mining Twitter hashtags can give us a link between emerging scientific evidence and PubMed,” the massive database run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Hamed said. Using their new algorithm, the Vermont team has created a website that will allow an investigator to explore the connections between search terms (say “albuterol”), existing scientific studies indexed in PubMed — and Twitter hashtags associated with the terms and studies.

Correlating the use of hashtags to potential real world events, in this case drug interactions, can create a potential early warning system that can feed other more traditional practices. This brings to mind related things like Google’s monitoring of flue trends, where public health institutions can also benefit–not just paid advertisers.

I suppose a better answer to the value question should include the exciting thought of what innovation is to come.


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