The Ministry of Health is teaming up with Massey University and Environmental Science and Research Limited to look at whether social media can help see flu epidemics and outbreaks of other infectious diseases coming.
Social media is often the first place people talk about feeling ill, so trends can visible on platforms like Twitter and Facebook before doctors are aware of them.
The earlier health services can see an outbreak coming the better prepared they can be to cope. This can help with concentrating resources in affected parts of the country and ensuring sufficient stocks of drugs are available.
The Ministry already uses a range of monitoring programmes to identify trends in communicable diseases. This involves working with a number of GP practices who report when patients with the flu visit them. The information is anonymised – it’s about numbers of cases not the individuals. By adding earlier tracking through social media, it should be possible to build a more comprehensive picture.
As a first step, the Ministry is running a simple online survey to see how New Zealanders would feel about sharing when they feel ill and, how they currently use social media to let people know they’re sick.
The more people that get involved the better prepared New Zealand can be.