Twitter Challenge to Track Public Health Trends

ONC #Health in My Community Challenge

In September 2009 President Obama outlined and initiated his Strategy for American Innovation. He called on agencies to “increase their ability to promote innovation by using tools such as prizes and challenges to solve tough problems.” The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) then issued the guidelines on challenges, contests, and prizes in March of 2010. The guidelines provide a policy and legal framework to guide agencies in using prizes to advance their missions through innovation. was created as a platform for agencies to list, track, and promote their challenges.

This week HHS announced their newest challenge through their Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The challenge is for developers to design web-based applications using Twitter to track health trends in real time. The thought here is to identify emerging health issues and a way to warn communities on public health emergencies. “When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “Based on that 2009 pandemic experience, local health officials asked for our help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring useful as part of the surveillance systems in place now to identify new diseases early.”

The challenge is called Now Trending – #Health in My Community. The requirements call for using open source Twitter data, a web based application must automatically deliver a list of the top 5 trending illnesses in a specified geographic area in a 24 hour period. The data must then be sent directly to state and local public health providers to use in a variety of ways. A winning app will be innovative, scalable, dynamic, and user-friendly.Prize money for this challenge is $21,000. For the most up to date information visit the challenge web site. The challenge will run through June 1, 2012. Follow and join the Twitter conversation at #NowTrending2012.

The challenge is the second for ASPR. The winners of their first challenge were awarded this past February. The three winners produced Facebook applications to help people prepare for personal emergencies. Check them out.