By: Gayle Schrier Smith, MD, Richmondmom.com Guest Writer
I had an ‘earthquake’ sort of an idea recently, and I was looking for a sounding board. What better place than with RichmondMom.com readers to discuss the concept and look for feedback? Remember back in August when the rumbling under our feet turned out to be a real, live earthquake? As I walked out of my office that day to see what was going on, I picked up my iPhone and searched #RVA on Twitter, and instantly I knew that there had been an earthquake. Tons of information, mostly experiential…instantly.
Amazing…and I can’t program the DVR!
The speed that information travels on the internet is incredible, and I wondered if I could have that same kind of instant information about the illnesses and infections going around Richmond this winter.
On Twitter, I am known as @MDPartner, and this month I started posting what I was seeing in the sick patients of my practice. A mild type of stomach bug, a fair amount of croup, and then a ton of strep throat. Colleague and primary care physician, Mark Ryan, MD who is also known @RichmondDoc on Twitter, supported my idea and began sharing the things he’s been seeing going around the community.
Information, when it comes to communicable disease, is really important to have, and many think that the spread of infection comes under control effectively and quickly when parents are well educated about what’s going around. Every parent knows that when the note comes home and the ‘throw-ups’ are going through your child’s class, it’s important to listen carefully when little Johnny says (from the back seat of the car, of course…) “My stomach doesn’t feel so good.” As it turns out, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook may be more efficient that traditional institutions at data banking and communicating trends to people who are interested in what’s going around.
You might have heard about a project called Google Flu. By counting how many times people search for information about influenza, the computer guys in Silicon Valley were able to build a math algorithm and accurately predict the spread of influenza illness. As it turns out, the CDC already tracks the spread of communicable diseases, like influenza, and reports that information to doctors.
What is interesting and pretty amazing to me… the Google Flu guys were able to report spreading cases of influenza as they were emerging across the country TWO weeks before the CDC published their surveillance data.
That’s huge when it comes to being a Mom and deciding whether to keep my child home from school with what looks like it might become flu. Knowing what’s going around helps me as a doctor- mother, too. When I’m in my office seeing case after case of strep throat, I am more likely to test a child who looks like she might have an atypical case of the bacteria. When I’m holding the bowl and a cool wash cloth in the middle of the gastroenteritis-night for my own kids, it really helps to be able to say that the misery will be short-lived.
Back to my earthquake of an idea.
Dr. Ryan and I decided to call it RVASickCall. It’s a short searchable term for Twitter and Facebook that can be attached to information about what’s going around in Richmond, Virginia and in the surrounding counties. We thought we would invite parents of all sorts, and physicians who enjoy a more tech-savvy approach to medicine to share what’s going around. The Richmond public health department could also use the tag to post what their epidemiologic data suggest is going around. Using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the information would be shared under the Twitter tag @RVASickCall or searchable with the hashtag #RVASickCall. Nothing formal. Nothing fancy. If the tool is useful, it’s likely to grow in user posts and shared experience.
The idea is to connect and share information instead of germs. Good ideas tend to spread easily and offer some benefit to many without too much work involved.
Next time your child or your patients are sick, post a note to Twitter or Facebook, and tell us what you think.
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD is a pediatrician on Monument Avenue who Tweets as @MDPartner and blogs at The Doctor Download. She is the mother of four who is often heard reminding her own kids that “an apple a day…”