Google Search Data Can Provide More Accurate Real Time Picture of Flu

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the take:

Many health professionals are concerned about the accuracy of health information patients access online, but a new study has found these online searches may actually be beneficial for tracking one disease in particular: influenza. A real-time count of how many patients have the disease at any given time can be highly useful to clinicians. For example, it can serve to estimate how likely the disease is to spread in a given year as well as indicate which strains are circulating most. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The study found that Google searches for influenza-related terms can provide an accurate estimate of the number of individuals with flu infections, with almost no delay.
  • Google-driven estimates of influenza reduced errors seen in a model used to interpret CDC data by up to 52.7%.
  • CDC-reported flu data is reported with a delay of up to one week, which means estimates become outdated quickly. However, Google searches take into account all of the latest cases nearly as soon as they happen and have the capability to filter out increases in searches that do not correspond to increased cases of the flu.

Google search data can provide more accurate real time picture of flu
Google search data can provide more accurate real time picture of flu
Researchers have found that Google search data really can provide a more accurate real time picture of current flu infections. But a study published in Royal Society Open Science demonstrates that Google search data can indeed be used to significantly improve estimates of the current number of cases of flu, reducing the errors seen in a model using CDC data alone by up to 52.7 per cent.
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