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Paging Dr. Google

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The Canadian Institute for Health Information today released a new report looking at the changes in Canada’s health care system over the last decade.

Among the talk of how much more we’re spending and where the money is going, there is an interesting little tidbit which caught my attention.

A sidebar, "Lessons from Google", says the online search giant noted a spike in the number of flu-related searches originating in Mexico on its search engine before there was any mention of a flu outbreak anywhere in the news.

"As part of its flu watch campaign in the U.S., Google had identified a link between the number of online queries about the flu and actual flu cases," the report says. "However, it would be almost a week before  Mexico’s health officials issued an alert."

So an online search engine was better than public health surveillance teams at figuring out there was a problem. Wow.

The report does note that a week wouldn’t have made a huge difference in global response but says "there can be no doubt that a seismic shift has occurred."

"In the old and slower approach of public health surveillance, a physician would communicate a reportable illness to a government entity.

"This system, at least in Canada, requires the cooperation and participation of 13 health systems—one for each province and territory.

"By contrast, Google operates in near-instant, borderless cyberspace. No single government is likely to have the breadth or resources to create, maintain and improve systems in the way that Google does.

"Google, or similar search engines, may actually be our public health watchdogs in the future."
 

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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