Follow the flu with social media

(WISH Photo)
(WISH Photo)

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) – The Indiana University Health flu precautions are about to expand.

On Monday, the system imposed restrictions on visitors at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Wednesday, the hospital system will extend the restrictions to its other hospitals in and around Indianapolis.

IU Health says that’s a measure of how serious the flu season is.

24-Hour News 8 found another way to measure it – in Fishers. You can follow the flu by watching people sneeze and wheeze.

But, the modern approach is watching them tweet.

“Technology, like Google Glass and like smart watches and mobile health has really started to transform healthcare and the way that we think about access to information,” Brian Norris says.

Norris collects that information.

His start-up company, Social Health Insights, follows key words, such as “flu” or “vaccine.”

The concept, called Mappy Health,  won a national award.

“It’s really tracking the social conversations and the social sentiment that are happening and allowing folks that have interpretive skills to say: is there something wrong here?” he said.

He speaks as someone who started as a registered nurse who migrated into the field of informatics.

“We can blend our health expertise with our social media expertise and start to really help from a population health standpoint,” he said.

For example, by monitoring Twitter’s trends, health experts can identify health problems – literally going viral – more quickly than they might without the help of social media.

“When we saw Indiana report the recent deaths that happened, ah, one of these spikes is attributed to that,” he said.
They see where the tweets are posted, from around the world, and how many are posted.

Norris said that has revealed this about Indiana’s current flu outbreak.

“Potentially that curve could be bending,” Norris says. “From a social conversation standpoint the activity seems to be on the downward trend.”

So, the outbreak appears to be easing, right now at least.

Norris admits they won’t know that until the official numbers come out. But, he said knowing the trend early can help doctors and nurses prepare, if they know social media says an illness is spreading.

Norris says this was crucial to his success.

This is “Launch Fishers” – a place for entrepreneurs to get a business going.

He said having this space available allowed him to focus on the work, rather than fighting to find funding for traditional office space or the need to work out of his garage.

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