On the Ground Validation of Online Diagnosis with Twitter and Medical Records

Todd Bodnar, Victoria C Barclay, Nilam Ram, Conrad S Tucker, Marcel Salathé

Social media has been considered as a data source for tracking disease. However, most analyses are based on models that prioritize strong correlation with population-level disease rates over determining whether or not specific individual users are actually sick. Taking a different approach, we develop a novel system for social-media based disease detection at the individual level using a sample of professionally diagnosed individuals. Specifically, we develop a system for making an accurate influenza diagnosis based on an individual's publicly available Twitter data. We find that about half (17/35 = 48.57%) of the users in our sample that were sick explicitly discuss their disease on Twitter. By developing a meta classifier that combines text analysis, anomaly detection, and social network analysis, we are able to diagnose an individual with greater than 99% accuracy even if she does not discuss her health.

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