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Student Wins $21,000 Award for Disease-Tracking App

Mark Silverberg

A GWSB information sciences graduate student’s team has won a $21,000 award for developing a web-based tool aimed at helping public health officials track disease outbreaks by using social media.

Nicole Lurie, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said studies of the 2009 H1N1 (flu) pandemic, and the Haiti cholera outbreak, showed that social media trends can illustrate disease outbreaks more quickly than traditional methods.

“Early identification of an outbreak allows health officials to respond quickly to protect communities,” said Lurie, whose office – at the behest of local health departments who wanted to use social media to better understand health trends – put out a challenge to developers.

The challenge was to create a user-friendly, web-based tool that would use open-source Twitter data to deliver a list of the top five trending illnesses from a region over a 24-hour period.  Health agencies could cross-reference such results with traditional surveillance methods.

The winner was MappyHealth, the brainchild of Mark Silverberg, a GWSB student in the MSIST (Master of Science in Information Systems Technology) program, and his two teammates, both of whom are nurses who work in hospital systems on information management and nursing informatics.

Silverberg, who with his teammates worked on MappyHealth in their spare time, said the award money would be channeled back into the business.

“It costs us no small amount to keep the servers up and ingesting data through our analytics pipeline,” he said.

Silverberg said HHS is looking to integrate MappyHealth into their systems, but that the process is still in planning stages.  He also said his team is moving forward, trying to develop other tools and ways to use health data for the public good.

“The three of us do not see this project as a silver bullet for social media analysis of health issues,” he said.

MappyHealth tracks 25 health conditions, using over 200 associated health terms, by analyzing tweets.  Data can be viewed by condition or location, and the site links to the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus so people can get more information about the conditions they see on the site.


Posted by gwsb on November 20, 2012 | Filed under: GWSB News.

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