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."