Monitoring Internet search traffic about influenza may prove to be a better way for hospital emergency rooms to prepare for a surge in sick patients compared to waiting for outdated government flu case reports. A report on the value of the Internet search tool for emergency departments, studied by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine over a 21-month period, is published in the January 9 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The researchers reported a strong correlation between a rise in Internet searches for flu information, compiled by Google's Flu Trends tool, and a subsequent rise in people coming into a busy urban hospital emergency room complaining of flu-like symptoms.
For the study, the researchers tracked and reviewed Google Flu Trends data for Baltimore City, along with data on people seeking care, into the separate adult and pediatric emergency departments at The Johns Hopkins Hospital from January 2009, to October 2010.
Richard Rothman, M.D., Ph.D., an emergency medicine physician and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and the senior investigator on the study, says the results show promise for eventually developing a standard regional or national early warning system for frontline health care workers.
Rothman and lead study investigator Andrea Dugas, M.D., recently hosted a national conference in Baltimore of experts from around the country to discuss the implications of their findings. In the long term, says Rothman, the Johns Hopkins team hopes to develop a highly reliable flu surveillance model that all emergency departments could use to reasonably predict a spike in the number of flu-like cases. Such a system, he says, could help emergency department directors and senior administrators prepare by beefing up staffing or opening up patient annexes.
Rothman and his team found the correlation between Internet searches and patient volume was most
|Contact: Mark Guidera|
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions