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Courtesy of Penn Medicine

Yelp and Twitter may not be the most obvious places to gather information on health care and hospital management, but the director of Penn Medicine’s new Center for Digital Health, Raina Merchant, will do just that. The new center was founded to provide a connection between technology, social media and health care.

Recognizing the power of various social media platforms to reveal potentially significant information about a patient’s health, Merchant has published many papers emphasizing the value of social media in improving health care.

“We call it the social mediome, as a collection of all the social data people are distributing and sharing on a regular basis,” Merchant told Philly.com. “And we’re trying to better understand the connections with health.”

CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System Ralph Muller said that what prompted the creation of the center was Merchant’s work in leading the MyHeartMap Challenge, a crowdsourcing contest that sent participants into Philadelphia to identify and submit locations of automated external defibrillators — electronic devices that can save someone from cardiac arrest. Merchant then created an application that people could use to locate the nearest automated external defibrillators in the case of an emergency.

Merchant’s research involves partnerships with the Wharton School, the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation named Merchant one of the top 10 leaders in the country in health care under the age of 40.

“[Merchant] is an innovative leader ... we saw that she had a talent in coming up with innovative solutions in healthcare,” Muller said.

Earlier this month, Merchant published another study, which found that Yelp reviews of hospitals offer valuable information that traditional hospital consumer assessments do not always provide. These traditional assessments often suffer from low response rates and only give a general indication of patient satisfaction without clearly identifying the complaints.

“Digital health is a new way of thinking about how to get information from multiple sources and digesting the patterns there might be,” Muller said. “So it’s really the whole conversion of [getting] information from traditional to technological sources.”

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