How Infodemiology Shapes Public Health in the Digital Age

Unraveling the infodemic phenomenon
Harnessing digital data for public health insights
Identifying misinformation and addressing health myths
Real-time surveillance and early warning systems
Challenges and ethical considerations
Conclusion
References
Further reading


The term “infodemiology” can be described as the science of distribution and determinants of information both online in an electronic format, such as the internet as well as offline within a population. The overall objective is to provide data on public health and policy. This concept forms a bridge between information found online and public health, which includes risks such as the rapid spread of misinformation on the internet that can influence health data consumption by the public.

Image Credit: PopTika/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: PopTika/Shutterstock.com

Unraveling the infodemic phenomenon

The digital age of rapid access to information has led to an “infodemic.” The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the term “infodemic” as the overabundance of information during an epidemic or disease outbreak that comprises both accurate and inaccurate components in digital and physical environments. A combination of a high volume of information as well as rapid output of information can lead to collateral growth of health-related misinformation that is available online.

A consequence that can occur as a result of an infodemic includes mistrust in health authorities, which can undermine the public health response. Infodemics can also cause disease outbreaks to continue or intensify due to public confusion and uncertainty about what is required to protect their health and those around them. This uncertainty has also been exacerbated by the rapid growth of digitalization, which includes social media and internet use.

Harnessing digital data for public health insights

A significant objective of infodemiology research includes developing, collecting, and evaluating measurement tools and indicators for communication and information patterns. These indicators relate to epidemiological data useful for public health and policymaking.

Infodemiology research can provide insight into how information can spread through data analysis on websites, social media, discussion forums, blogs, and activity on search engines. This allows infodemiology researchers to understand how misinformation can spread and the impact on public health due to the relationship between population health and communication patterns in electronic media.

Surveillance of infodemiology data informs public health professionals if there is a surge of misinformation, which can be counterbalanced by public health campaigns and “health marketing.” An example of this includes the surge of misinformation on vaccinations, which can impact health decisions made by the public. Being informed about such misinformation can aid public health professionals in addressing “epidemics of fear” by supplying the public with appropriate information to ease concerns.

Identifying misinformation and addressing health myths

The attempt to counterbalance misinformation by public health professionals can be challenging in the digital age. This is due to the mass availability and spread of misinformation from multiple sources, such as social media, blogs, and manipulation of search engine use that only cements confirmation bias of an individual’s fears and paranoia. Once this downward spiral of misinformation is reached, populations can be deterred from being impacted by public health campaigns and “health marketing” that aims to counterbalance the misinformation.

Infodemiology techniques can be used to identify sources of misinformation, with a system that monitors social media and internet postings for infodemiologists to respond quickly, address concerns, and provide accurate information.

Real-time surveillance and early warning systems

Real-time surveillance of health trends, known as infoveillance, can aid in detecting outbreaks of misinformation to counteract these with interventions and facts from correct sources. Surveillance of information on the internet requires metrics on the data supply on the internet, including the quality of misinformation being spread, as well as the demand for information by the public, such as through queries and search engine use.

The potential of infoveillance aid in counteracting misinformation from the start of its outbreak can lead to a possibly higher level of balance between appropriate and accurate information and misinformation posted and shared online. This technique may aid in the early detection of health crises, complementing health warnings shared more conventionally, ensuring the wider population is aware of the risks of not following public health policies and protocols.

Challenges and ethical considerations

Infodemiology challenges can include the analysis and interpretation of vast amounts of online health-related data, such as the need to recruit infodemiologists from healthcare and scientific backgrounds who would constantly be required to monitor and address misinformation. Additionally, the technical burden of analyzing information metrics from such a large pool of users on the internet may be difficult to maintain, with the sharing of information being rapid and wide-reaching.

There are also some ethical considerations associated with infodemiology and infoveillance, with the monitoring of information online being a possible breach of privacy. A lack of consent to use information posted online for analysis is also a concern, which may reduce the efficacy of surveillance to reduce infodemics. There may also be concerns about what else the information analyzed may be used for, as well as the buying and selling of personal data to third-party companies.

The responsible use of data in infodemiology studies would require policies in place that allow for misinformation to be addressed and reduced without the breach of privacy and consent of users online.

Conclusion

Overall, the potential of infodemiology could be revolutionary and transformative in shaping public health strategies within the digital age to counterbalance the mass level of misinformation found online. This could aid in unifying populations during disease outbreaks and pandemics to protect everyone through addressing concerns and misinformation being spread digitally.

However, while this concept would be useful and transformative to combat the level of misinformation being spread online, there may be data breaches and information governance concerns regarding the ethics of analyzing data without population consent as well as the protection of privacy. Ethical considerations would have to be considered to ensure online privacy is respected while also allowing misinformation to be counterbalanced and addressed.

References

  • Eysenbach G. How to fight an Infodemic: The four pillars of Infodemic management. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2020;22(6). doi:10.2196/21820
  • Eysenbach G. Infodemiology and Infoveillance: Framework for an emerging set of public health informatics methods to analyze search, communication and publication behavior on the internet. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2009;11(1). doi:10.2196/jmir.1157
  • Gorman JM, Scales DA. Leveraging infodemiologists to counteract online misinformation: Experience with covid-19 vaccines: HKS Misinformation Review. Misinformation Review. July 10, 2023. Accessed September 15, 2023. https://misinforeview.hks.harvard.edu/article/leveraging-infodemiologists-to-counteract-online-misinformation-experience-with-covid-19-vaccines/.
  • Infodemiology. Pan American Journal of Public Health. Accessed September 15, 2023. https://www.paho.org/journal/en/special-issues/infodemiology.
  • Managing the COVID-19 infodemic: Promoting healthy behaviours and mitigating the harm from misinformation and disinformation. World Health Organization. Accessed September 15, 2023. https://www.who.int/news/item/23-09-2020-managing-the-covid-19-infodemic-promoting-healthy-behaviours-and-mitigating-the-harm-from-misinformation-and-disinformation.
  • Zeraatkar K, Ahmadi M. Trends of infodemiology studies: A scoping review. Health Information & Libraries Journal. 2018;35(2):91-120. doi:10.1111/hir.12216
  • Zielinski C. Infodemics and infodemiology: A short history, a long future. Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública. 2021;45:1. doi:10.26633/rpsp.2021.40

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Marzia Khan

Written by

Marzia Khan

Marzia Khan is a lover of scientific research and innovation. She immerses herself in literature and novel therapeutics which she does through her position on the Royal Free Ethical Review Board. Marzia has a MSc in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine as well as a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in the NHS and is engaging in a scientific innovation program.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Khan, Marzia. (2023, October 02). How Infodemiology Shapes Public Health in the Digital Age. News-Medical. Retrieved on February 23, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Infodemiology-Shapes-Public-Health-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx.

  • MLA

    Khan, Marzia. "How Infodemiology Shapes Public Health in the Digital Age". News-Medical. 23 February 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Infodemiology-Shapes-Public-Health-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Khan, Marzia. "How Infodemiology Shapes Public Health in the Digital Age". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Infodemiology-Shapes-Public-Health-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx. (accessed February 23, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Khan, Marzia. 2023. How Infodemiology Shapes Public Health in the Digital Age. News-Medical, viewed 23 February 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Infodemiology-Shapes-Public-Health-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
Post
You might also like...
Artificial tears linked to drug-resistant bacteria outbreak, CDC finds