Objective: Research studies show that social media may be valuable tools in the disease surveillance toolkit used for improving public health professionals' ability to detect disease outbreaks faster than traditional methods and to enhance outbreak response. A social media work group, consisting of surveillance practitioners, academic researchers, and other subject matter experts convened by the International Society for Disease Surveillance, conducted a systematic primary literature review using the PRISMA framework to identify research, published through February 2013, answering either of the following questions:Can social media be integrated into disease surveillance practice and outbreak management to support and improve public health?Can social media be used to effectively target populations, specifically vulnerable populations, to test an intervention and interact with a community to improve health outcomes?Examples of social media included are Facebook, MySpace, microblogs (e.g., Twitter), blogs, and discussion forums. For Question 1, 33 manuscripts were identified, starting in 2009 with topics on Influenza-like Illnesses (n = 15), Infectious Diseases (n = 6), Non-infectious Diseases (n = 4), Medication and Vaccines (n = 3), and Other (n = 5). For Question 2, 32 manuscripts were identified, the first in 2000 with topics on Health Risk Behaviors (n = 10), Infectious Diseases (n = 3), Non-infectious Diseases (n = 9), and Other (n = 10).
Conclusions: The literature on the use of social media to support public health practice has identified many gaps and biases in current knowledge. Despite the potential for success identified in exploratory studies, there are limited studies on interventions and little use of social media in practice. However, information gleaned from the articles demonstrates the effectiveness of social media in supporting and improving public health and in identifying target populations for intervention. A primary recommendation resulting from the review is to identify opportunities that enable public health professionals to integrate social media analytics into disease surveillance and outbreak management practice.