May 17, 2020

Tracking disease with search data and web technology

Flu Trends
dengue fever
3 min
Search data can track the global spread of disease
Written by Linda Dailey Paulson For healthcare professionals isolated by geography or resource constraints, there has often been a lag or complete lack...

Written by Linda Dailey Paulson

For healthcare professionals isolated by geography or resource constraints, there has often been a lag or complete lack of timely data about encroaching infectious diseases. In some of these instances, a little information can be immediately used for education, preventing the expense of ongoing treatment, as well as potentially avoiding fatalities.

Web-based search data in particular can be successfully used in the early detection and monitoring of various diseases. The genesis of these efforts can be traced to Google’s Flu Trends tool, which was developed by the company with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It often takes significant time and resources to actually collect, analyse, and report data. However, in 2008, Google researchers found that trending search terms can be indicative of actual events. They looked at official data from the CDC and found that there was a direct correlation between the spread of the disease and search terms such as ‘flu’.

After seeing how Google Flu Trends worked, researchers eager to use search trend data to find out more about public health have contacted the company. The result was Google Correlate, a new, experimental service designed to connect search analysis with real-life data. Google Correlate does not look at one single person’s search patterns, but examines patterns appearing in millions of Google queries.

From this, Google has created Dengue Trends. No vaccine or treatment for Dengue fever exists, which means prevention is critical and Google worked with HealthMap to develop its Dengue tool.

The Children's Hospital Boston and researchers say examining search data – specifically disease-related queries specific to dengue fever – could help public health officials respond quickly to areas of concern with mosquito control and disease prevention campaigns, such as education campaigns, to stem an outbreak. Dengue fever reportedly infects roughly 500 million people every year and 55 percent of the global population is currently at risk of infection, according to the researchers.

Data mining has been used by public health professionals for several years. HealthMap, which was established in 2006, is one of the pioneers in this area. This real-time tracking technology uses various online news sources to track emerging infectious diseases in both animals and humans. Some of the health situations being monitored this year include meningitis, whooping cough, equine herpes virus, a measles outbreak in Utah, and antibiotic resistance worldwide.

It is not only physicians and public health professionals who are interested in using these techniques to develop health-monitoring services. New consumer-related tools such as Sickweather are designed to mine data about illnesses using social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Although still in Beta, Sickweather intends “to forecast the movement of everything from stomach bugs to chronic illness and other sickness, including depression,” so that users are able to monitor their health as well as health of friends and family, and -- most importantly -- remain well.

An overview of Google Flu Trends:

Linda Dailey Paulson is a medical and technology journalist who writes for Providian Medical Equipment, a leading provider of refurbished medical technology to hospitals and clinics all over the world.

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Jun 18, 2021

Skin Analytics wins NHSX award for AI skin cancer tool 

2 min
Skin Analytics uses AI to detect skin cancer and will be deployed across the NHS to ease patient backlogs

An artificial intelligence-driven tool that identifies skin cancers has received an award from NHSX, the NHS England and Department of Health and Social Care's initiative to bring technology into the UK's national health system. 

NHSX has granted the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to DERM, an AI solution that can identify 11 types of skin lesion. 

Developed by Skin Analytics, DERM analyses images of skin lesions using algorithms. Within primary care, Skin Analytics will be used as an additional tool to help doctors with their decision making. 

In secondary care, it enables AI telehealth hubs to support dermatologists with triage, directing patients to the right next step. This will help speed up diagnosis, and patients with benign skin lesions can be identified earlier, redirecting them away from dermatology departments that are at full capacity due to the COVID-19 backlog. 

Cancer Research has called the impact of the pandemic on cancer services "devastating", with a 42% drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment after screening. 

DERM is already in use at University Hospitals Birmingham and Mid and South Essex Health & Care Partnership, where it has led to a significant reduction in unnecessary referrals to hospital.

Now NHSX have granted it the Phase 4 AI in Health and Care Award, making DERM available to clinicians across the country. Overall this award makes £140 million available over four years to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Dr Lucy Thomas, Consultant Dermatologist at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, said: “Skin Analytics’ receipt of this award is great news for the NHS and dermatology departments. It will allow us to gather real-world data to demonstrate the benefits of AI on patient pathways and workforce challenges. 

"Like many services, dermatology has severe backlogs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award couldn't have come at a better time to aid recovery and give us more time with the patients most in need of our help.”

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