Informatics and Computing Assists IU School of Nursing in Big-Data Research About Health and Wellness

February 12, 2015

Indiana University School of Nursing and ChaCha have joined in a partnership to provide Indiana University researchers access to anonymous, de-identified questions from the ChaCha question and answer service in order to better understand a variety of health and cultural topics.

The unique nature of the ChaCha data, composed entirely of questions submitted by users on a wide range of subjects from 2009 to 2012, will provide researchers with unparalleled access to the public’s questions about health and wellness.

The data-sharing agreement has led to the creation of the Social Network Health Research Lab at Indiana University School of Nursing on the IUPUI campus. It is an interdisciplinary laboratory composed of researchers from the IU schools of nursing, informatics and computing, and liberal arts. Leveraging the advanced computing methods available at Indiana University, the lab’s initial projects will involve mining the ChaCha data set to understand how ChaCha users ask about health and wellness.

“This extraordinary partnership with ChaCha will allow IU researchers to amplify the patient voice in understanding health conditions,” said Chad Priest, Social Network Health Research Lab director and principal investigator. “We will be able to match anonymous social network information with aggregate health outcomes to map health-related dialogue occurring through social media networks.”

Michael T. Weaver, interim dean of the IU School of Nursing, sees endless possibilities for informing health care. “As researchers focused on improving the quality of life and care of our patients, the ability to understand health-related issues from the patient’s perspective is a unique opportunity. We have the potential to determine which health topics are of greatest concern, what outcomes are most desirable, and how patients view particular treatments and practices. These data have potentially great economic and health care implications.”

“Our massive data sets are uniquely able to provide insight into many types of linguistic patterns and user behavior,” ChaCha CEO Scott Jones said. “We are extremely happy to be able to work with IU School of Nursing to create this new lab.”

“We want to use a data set as large as this one to improve population health on a very large scale,” said Janet S. Carpenter, associate dean for research at IU School of Nursing. “That’s a very exciting new vista to explore, and along with improved health and the ability to expand IU School of Nursing’s research into new areas, it also means more jobs for Hoosiers.”

“Discovering usable information from the ChaCha text data poses an interesting and exciting Big Data challenge in informatics utilizing natural language processing (text mining),” said Mathew Palakal, executive associate dean and professor  in the School of Informatics and Computing. “Researchers require real-time exploration of the data, and hence, complex text-mining algorithms based on Hadoop computing platforms will be developed in order to facilitate active research on the ChaCha data.”

Article courtesy of School of Nursing, Sally Kraus

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