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Medical News & Perspectives
May 8, 2013

Scientists Mine Web Search Data to Identify Epidemics and Adverse Events

JAMA. 2013;309(18):1883-1884. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.4015

As individuals increasingly turn to “Dr Google” when a health concern arises, scientists are looking into ways to use the data from these searches to create early warning systems about emerging public health problems—from flu epidemics to drug adverse events.

Already, to help identify emerging influenza epidemics, public health authorities are using Google Flu Trends, which uses an algorithm to estimate the incidence of flu in the United States based on Google searches for certain flu-related words. Search data also might offer more timely warnings about drug interactions or adverse events than traditional surveillance systems, new evidence suggests.