Innovative uses of electronic health records and social media for public health surveillance

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The tools most commonly used for diabetes surveillance are national surveys such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Research regarding the use of Electronic Health Records (also known as Electronic Medical Records or EMRs) and social media in diabetes surveillance is very scarce, and this article aims to add to the body of knowledge.


In this article the authors analyze the potential of EHRs and social media as surveillance instruments, in the format of informed commentary. They then offer their recommendations and conclusions.

EHRs and Diabetes Surveillance

EHRs offer many advantages in conducting diabetes surveillance, such as: being able to follow patients’ complete medical history, and from this information determining health disparities and populations at risk. The disadvantages to using EHRs are that the data might be inaccurate or incomplete, as well as concerns regarding patient privacy and data confidentiality.

Social Media and Diabetes Surveillance

With two thirds of adults in the U.S. being participants of social media sites, one of the advantages of this tool is that it allows surveillance staff to gather easily accessible information, usually by monitoring social media sites and looking for trends. Another advantage is that many patients look to social media support groups to learn more about their disease and share their health struggles; this is because they feel more comfortable expressing themselves with their peers in an open environment rather than in a clinical setting. A disadvantage of social media is that data may not be true or fabricated, and patients may not know that their information is being used.


The authors conclude that even though both of these tools have limitations, using them in conjunction with traditional surveillance methods will offer new opportunities in the areas of surveillance and research. For example, patients will become more engaged participants in surveillance activities and research studies which use social media, and they would also be able to receive communications and results more easily.

My Comments

I enjoyed the format of this article, and I like how it was divided into two sections (one for each tool). The authors’ commentaries and opinions were insightful and well supported with research. In the future, I expect that surveillance and research will be conducted in a faster manner than it is today thanks to these two tools.[1]


  1. Eggleston and Weitzman 2014.Innovative uses of electronic health records and social media for public health surveillance.