HHS Launches Twitter Public Health App Contest


For those interested in combining social media with disease awareness and preparedness, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has launched a developer’s challenge to create a public health application that would make healthcare officials aware of the top-five illnesses in a given geographic region.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) announced the app challenge, titled Now Trending: #Health in My Community, yesterday. Entrants have until June 1 to submit their app.

The idea for the public health app was based on the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

“When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” according to a statement by Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the Public Health Service.

This prompted local health officials to ask for help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media data integral as an advance signal of a public health emergency.

The winning app would take Twitter data for a specific geographic area and count the frequency of common illness-related terms to come up with a list of top five trending illnesses for the past 24 hours.

The top-five list would be automatically delivered daily to public health practitioners at health departments via a Web-based widget.

This information can then be used by the health departments to build a baseline of trend data, engage the public on trending health topics, serve as an indicator of potential health issues emerging in the population, or cross-reference other data sources. Early identification would also assist public health officials in responding quickly to a possible outbreak and minimize the spread of disease.

Winners will be notified in August, and the grand prize is $21,000.

Applicants can register here.



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