Lessons Learned about Public Health from Online Crowd Surveillance
Communication Technology and New Media
Medicine and Health
The Internet has forever changed the way people access information and make decisions about their healthcare needs. Patients now share information about their health at unprecedented rates on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and on medical discussion boards. In addition to explicitly shared information about health conditions through posts, patients reveal data on their inner fears and desires about health when searching for health-related keywords on search engines. Data are also generated by the use of mobile phone applications that track users' health behaviors (e.g., eating and exercise habits) as well as give medical advice. The data generated through these applications are mined and repackaged by surveillance systems developed by academics, companies, and governments alike to provide insight to patients and healthcare providers for medical decisions. Until recently, most Internet research in public health has been surveillance focused or monitoring health behaviors. Only recently have researchers used and interacted with the crowd to ask questions and collect health-related data. In the future, we expect to move from this surveillance focus to the “ideal” of Internet-based patient-level interventions where healthcare providers help patients change their health behaviors. In this article, we highlight the results of our prior research on crowd surveillance and make suggestions for the future.