“A new research discipline and methodology has emerged—the study of the determinants and distribution of health information (…): Information epidemiology, or infodemiology" (Eysenbach, 2002)
"The Internet has made measurable what was previously immeasurable: The distribution of health information in a population, tracking health information trends over time, and identifying gaps between information supply and demand." (Eysenbach, 2006)
Infovigil is a proof-of-concept infodemiology project, under development at the Eysenbach Research Group at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Toronto (Director and Principal Investigator: Gunther Eysenbach MD MPH).
The vision is to develop infodemiology methods and metrics/indices, as well as a set of open source tools to gather these metrics/indices, allowing researchers (e.g. from the public health or health communication fields, or social scientists) to identify and track information seeking (=demand) and information provision (=supply) trends in digital media over time. The tools we are developing enable researchers to specify a "concept" (for example, H1N1), for which we will prospectively track and archive information and communication patterns on the Internet. Some of these metrics are suitable for a geospatial analysis and statistical analysis, e.g. generating alerts if trend changes or other abnormalities occur.
Infodemiology metrics have a number of potential applications. For example, in the context of public health and syndromic surveillance, we were - in an early proof-of-concept project - the first to observe a correlation between Google searches and influenza incidence (Eysenbach, 2006), suggesting demand-based infodemiology metrics as a candidate for early detection of disease outbreaks - this idea was later popularized and commercially exploited by Google (Google Flutrends). There are also various applications related to knowledge translation - for exmple, we are experimenting with tools enabling us to measure the "penetration" rate and patterns with which new knowledge or new information is disseminated.
We are currently focussing on Twitter as data source, and H1N1 as "concept of interest" (COI). We have developed generic tools that enable us to 1) gather and archive COI-relevant tweets as well as COI-relevant webpages, blogs, and other web-based material, 2) generate geospatial metircs (indices), 3) visualize and analyze these data, e.g. on maps. We are also working on the idea to combine passive data collection methods with active collection methods (online surveys).
Revisit this site often (bookmark it!) and sign up to our mailing list to stay tuned for some fascinating insights into the "epidemiology of information".
For research collaborations (joint grant proposals , joint papers etc) or contract work (monitoring brand names etc.) please contact geysenba at gmail.com
(c) Gunther Eysenbach, 2009
Last update: 2009-07-30 16:20:33