Computing scientists develop health-care-focused social media network

Proof-of-concept platform Cardea brings patients and health professionals together to combat misinformation.

Andrew Lyle - 15 December 2021

Computing scientists have developed a proof-of-concept health-care-focused social media network.

Computing scientists have developed a proof-of-concept health-care-focused social media network. Photo: Unsplash

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta have set out to create a new social media network to combat health misinformation. To create a space that helps users get trusted advice, connect with others, and combat misinformation, the team has created the proof-of-concept platform to bring patients and healthcare professionals together.

Cardea is a health social network that enables patients and health professionals to come together online and interact with each other to share experiences, ask questions, and get answers,” said Hamman Samuel, PhD student in the Faculty of Science and lead author of the study that created the platform.

Users are able to connect in three different ways: patient to patient, patient to health professional, and health professional to health professional — allowing users to post questions and get answers, share their thoughts in blog posts, and interact with other users through comments and votes.

“The idea behind Cardea started long before the term health misinformation became a common term,” said Samuel, who built the proof-of-concept platform under the supervision of Osmar Zaiane, professor in the Department of Computing Science. “Not too long ago, the conversations around the topic of health misinformation were much narrower in scope, such as apricot seeds being touted to cure cancer. Now, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has become front and centre in the public discourse.”

The team sees three main benefits Cardea can offer: providing an accessible channel for medical experts to speak with the community, allowing users to engage in self-help and self-education about their health, and bringing remote medicine to a preferred platform — namely, social media.

“By creating this platform, we hope to allow medical experts and patients to connect with each other in an accessible way that incorporates some of the preferences we see with how people like to obtain information,” said Samuel. “And to combat health misinformation we use information retrieval to query reputable and trusted medical knowledge databases such as PubMed, DARE, Cochrane, and others, visually flagging potential health misinformation.” 

Users can opt-in to enable artificial intelligence and machine learning tools used to analyze trending topics and flag potential misinformation in conversations, or disable this functionality. Cardea also stores no personal user information other than username and email addresses, an important factor in addressing privacy and data security concerns.

“The machine learning tools are meant to help the users be aware of the level of credibility of information they are consuming from Cardea,” said Samuel. “When users discuss their medical issues, there are no personally identifiable details tied to these discussions, which are effectively anonymous. Cardea has undergone a PIPEDA self-assessment to ensure that the privacy of users is maintained.”

The paper, “The Need for Medical Professionals to Join Patients in the Online Health Social Media Discourse,” was published in Proceedings of the 14th International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies - (Volume 5).