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What is a health communication crisis?

What is a health communication crisis?
However, I would like to give you also some examples of how social media can be used for education and communication in the case of the Ebola outbreak. There are some campaigns that encourage people to share information about the Ebola– how to avoid the disease to get contagious and also to recognise the symptoms. Then in here, you have another example from a West African country. They made an application showing the issue related to the symptom. Also you have information about where to call and when to call the Ebola line.
You have also educational videos. Actually the application has been quite popular. Interesting– in Spain, where we had one nurse infected with Ebola, you don’t find an application from the government regarding the Ebola outbreak. You will find this example– the Ebola Protocol. It’s actually a game making fun of the hospital where the infected nurse was hospitalised and also making fun of the government. This is not a very good example. But it’s out there. And you should be aware. People are also making fun of Ebola and health authorities. This is actually a lost opportunity for communication from the Spanish Health Ministry. Ebola also has been addressed– the Ebola crisis– with the use of SMS for health education. This is very important.
Because SMS on mobile phones is highly popular in many of the African countries. This is a slide from the TTC. But there are many other examples. In addition, social media has been used to try to fight the stigma from Ebola survival. So you have many videos from survivors. They are trying to explain their story. And this is a campaign from the World Health Organisation to fight the stigma around Ebola. Which is very important after the crisis. Because you need to recover not only the health care system, but also the community that has been stricken by Ebola. Now I will explain to you a little bit of the benefits of social media as a summary.
With social media, we have the opportunity to gather a lot of data that allows us to do real time monitoring to try to detect very early the crisis. We react very quickly to any change in the crisis. And also we can monitor the efforts of any communication campaigns that we do in the short term. We don’t have to wait months. We can see actually how people change in searching data, et cetera. With social media, we have a global reach with very low cost. With that I mean that even from Spain, I am able to track online newspaper from my Sierra Leone automatically in real time. This is actually something that, if you compare with offline methods, may take months.
And you actually have to move to those countries. We also have, in addition, a lot of data sources. We have sensors. We have mobile phones. We can ask people. We can analyse content from social media. And one of the advantages of social media monitoring for health communication crisis is it’s very easy to scale. You can deploy a server to track Twitter or YouTube. Within one day, if you want to send an SMS, you don’t need to buy any phones to the population. You can just do a campaign and send an SMS to everybody without having to buy any new computer. That’s very good. Because you reduce quite a lot the cost.
However, the benefits come with some challenges, which I will explain now.
It’s become extremely complex to analyse all those data sources. We don’t really have any tools that actually will integrate everything in a meaningful way, that public health authority policymakers can actually do better decisions using those tools. It’s very hard to make any application that will help them. So we need to understand the data. And first of all, we need to understand the question we want to make to that data. Once we know the question, we would be able to make better tools for policymakers. And in the long term, the challenge will be to try to forecast and to simulate what will happen when you do something to prevent misinformation.
To try to forecast if this rumour actually will be a problem or not, we have to conclude, when we see something online, whether that will become something viral and a huge problem from a health communication point of view, or not. For example, nobody knew that actually, the salty water remedy for Ebola in Nigeria was going to become viral. And people even died because of that. If we manage to simulate and forecast if that misinformation will be a problem, then we have a very powerful tool. Another major challenge is enforcement. As you have seen, people are using social media to sell fake cures for Ebola. You also have people using the internet to sell counterfeit medicine like Viagra, et cetera.
And that’s a huge health problem in many countries. It’s very hard to enforce information online. And I don’t have any solution for that. Once we have many different data sources, we will need to integrate them. And also something that you need to take into account is training. Social media is not very simple. And it changes a lot within the years. Right now, pretty much everybody in Spain and in many countries is using Wassapp, Viber or any SMS messaging app. Three years ago, it was nobody. So this is a medium that is changing so quickly. That will require continuous training all the time.
And just to finalise, I would like to recommend you take a look into the World Economic Forum’s report about the global risks in the year 2013. They highlight, actually, one of the major challenges worldwide that we are facing. It’s something that they call the digital wildfires of misinformation in a hyperconnected world. A rumor in one country can spread to another country. And it can have consequences that we don’t understand. The best way to explain that is to try to see that we have, nowadays, wildfires of misinformation that can have many negative effects. Now, just to finalise, I will explain a little bit a conclusion.
First of all, social media has a huge impact in the global scale, the country, and also local crises. It’s developing very quickly. And we are really lacking tools and methods for research, and also for policymaking. There is a little bit of chaos. It’s a very complex environment. So we need to use complex systems science to try to better understand the issues. In order to understand what is going on, and to try to help authorities to better manage health communication crises in social media, we will need a lot of multidisciplinary research. We need researchers with backgrounds in health science. We need computer scientists. We need social media experts. We need people a communication background, et cetera, et cetera.
Once we enter in big data and data analytics of social media, we will realise that we can try to monitor a lot of things that will help the health communication for companies, for governments, and even for countries. And this actually will be a very successful and growing business, which is now just emerging. If you have any questions, here you have my contact information. Thank you very much.

Social media offers the opportunity to gather data and monitor events in real time to help detect healthcare crises early. Here Luis explains how social media can be a powerful tool.

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Social Media in Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges

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