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Social Media’s Evolving Role in Health Care

On August 23, 2011, some people in New York knew an earthquake was coming before it happened.  They weren’t psychic (as far as I know), but digital tweets from their friends in Washington, DC arrived 30 seconds before any seismic rumbles began (1, 2).  Afterwards, the U.S. Geological Survey asked people to “tweet if you felt it.” Over 122,000 people responded, providing a detailed map of activity within hours (3).  Though phones were dead near the epicenter of the quake, texts kept moving.

Welcome to SOLOMO (SOcial, LOcal, MObile) communication, connecting us instantly through handheld devices.  News now literally travels at the speed of light, with words strapped to the backs of zippy electrons. Emergency preparedness and disaster response teams are taking note, using social media to both get and spread the word.  The Red Cross has dedicated teams who monitor Facebook and Twitter (4).

While the speed of social–media communication is impressive, its volume is daunting and its content overwhelmingly messy.  Besides 300 billion emails (5), each day across the globe we send 200 million tweets(6); search the Web more than four billion times(7); and add 5,000 new blog sites to the 170 million that already exist (8). Ten million people, including the president, belong to FourSquare (9), which delivers personalized offers and local news interactively based on where you are (GPS) and what is nearby.  In the 3.5 hours we spend each day “connected” (10) we buy, sell, chat, gossip, work, cheer, complain, and advise.  We plan everything from dinner parties to Mideast revolutions, we ask about everything from movie ratings to interplanetary travel, and we monitor progress of local teams, hurricanes, and political races.

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