- Nine days before the World Health Organization announced the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, an online tool called HealthMap identified a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" in southeastern Guinea—effectively predicting the outbreak before traditional methods.
- HealthMap's algorithm analyzes tens of thousands of local news sites, social media outlets, government websites and infectious-disease physician networks to identify and track outbreaks.
- The tool is available free online, and debuted in 2006 with an intended market of population health experts. In the wake of the swine flu pandemic, however, its audience has become more consumer-based.
Not to cheapen HealthMap's importance in the crisis in West Africa, but there are significant implications here for the domestic U.S. With ACOs on the rise and the interest in population health as high as it has ever been, online tools that can accurately predict population health are at a premium. So far, refining a digital tool that draws on social media outlets has been an imperfect science, but as HealthMap demonstrates, the algorithms are only going to get better. Expect to see more of these tools whose focus is less on devastating infectious diseases and more on the prediction of things like the incidence of diabetes.
The Ebola crisis has claimed almost 1,000 lives to date. WHO is convening a panel to discuss policies for the use of experimental drugs on disease victims.
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