Google may aid doctors in preparing for flu surges

The search engine Google may help physicians gauge when they should prepare to see a surge in flu cases.

A team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore recently compared Google Flu Trends, a service that tracks the number of flu-related internet searches, with more conventional systems currently used to track the infectious illness, according to Time.

The findings, which appear in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, show that Google Flu Trends proved to be effective. The service also has a major advantage over traditional surveillance methods - it is updated every day and available to physicians almost instantly.

Previous studies have proven that Google Flu Trends can give an accurate picture of flu infections for large areas, but the recent trial showed that Google's data can predict changes in patient volume for a single hospital, Time reports.

The study compared Google Flu Trends data with 21 months worth of statistics on emergency room crowding and flu tests in Baltimore. The data showed a high degree of correlation with positive lab tests for the flu and pediatric emergency room volume. The data showed a moderate level of correlation with volume in the adult emergency ward.

The researchers said that an up-to-the-minute flu surveillance system may become a reality in the future. Such a system could be used to prepare emergency rooms for an influx of patients and give administrators time to call in extra staff.