Federal officials are challenging developers to design Web-based applications that use Twitter to track health trends in real time. Health officials may be able to use knowledge of these trends as an early indicator of emerging health issues and a warning of public health emergencies in a community.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) today issued the challenge, a developers’ contest called Now Trending – #Health in My Community. The online challenge runs through June 1, 2012.
Social media trends can be powerful indicators of community health issues. However, current Web-based apps look backward, collating social media data to show how trends developed. The ASPR challenge would create a Web-based app to use social media data as an advance signal of a public health emergency.
“When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “Based on that 2009 pandemic experience, local health officials asked for our help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring useful as part of the surveillance systems in place now to identify new diseases early.”
With early identification, health officials can respond quickly, including advising people how to protect their health and minimize the spread of the disease. Minimizing the spread of disease could help the community bounce back quickly from an outbreak or a public health emergency – or potentially prevent a public health emergency, such as a pandemic, from occurring.
To win the challenge, the application must be innovative, scalable, dynamic, and user-friendly. The app must use open-source Twitter data to deliver a list automatically of the top five trending illnesses over a 24-hour period in a specified geographic region. The application must be able to send the data to state and local health agencies. These agencies, in turn, can cross-reference the data with traditional biosurveillance systems, build a baseline of trends, determine emerging public health threats, and advise the public on how to protect their health.
The person or team developing the best application will receive $21,000 from ASPR as well as a $1,000 travel stipend to attend an event announcing the winner. In addition, the winner will be invited to present the winning tool at a Fusion Forum, a discussion series sponsored by ASPR’s Fusion Cell for state and local health officials to help identify pioneering ways to move from open source information into use as a public health response. The winning application will be made available to state, territorial, tribal and local health agencies across the nation for use in their communities.
To register to participate in the Now Trending – #Health in My Community Developer Challenge, visit http://challenge.gov/HHS/334-now-trending-health-in-my-community. Upon submission participants must warrant that they are the sole authors and owners of the final product.
Federal employees, federal contractors, and recipients of federal grants may not participate in the challenge using time paid by federal funds. Winners must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens, permanent U.S. residents or businesses incorporated in and maintaining their primary place of business in the United States.
The Now Trending – #Health in My Community challenge is the second sponsored by ASPR in the past year. Through the first challenge, the ASPR Facebook Lifeline App Challenge, developers designed a new Facebook application that could enhance individual and community resilience by establishing social connections in advance of an emergency. The winning lifeline app is expected to be available on Facebook this spring to help people create and share preparedness plans and get support from friends and family in any type of emergency.
HHS is the principal federal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) leads HHS in preparing the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security.
ASPR’s Fusion Cell manages the large volumes of disparate internal and external data sources necessary for situational awareness, rapid decision support, and ultimately the discovery of new indicators and warnings of events of public health significance. This ensures that decisionmakers are better informed, better prepared, and better able to rapidly respond to protect people’s health during emergencies and save lives.