While doctors may gripe about the increasing number of patients that arrive in their offices with WebMD printouts and search-engine-assisted self diagnoses, Google sees it as opportunity. Today, Google.org (the philanthropic arm of the Google monster) unveiled Google Flu Trends, a web tool that will track flu outbreaks based on user-generated search terms.
Flu Trends works because the Google search box is so often the first place people turn at the first sign of a sniffle. The company says Flu Trends could alert users to flu activity in their area up to two weeks ahead of traditional systems like emergency room reports.
To develop the service, Google’s engineers devised a basket of keywords and phrases related to the flu, including thermometer, flu symptoms, muscle aches, chest congestion and many others. Google then dug into its database, extracted five years of data on those queries and mapped the data onto the C.D.C.’s reports of “influenza-like illness,” which the agency compiles based on data from labs, health care providers, death certificates and other sources. Google found an almost perfect correlation between its data and the C.D.C. reports.
Flu Trends gives you a day-to-day report on flu activity across the country, so you’ll know to stay in bed if your state turns red (level: intense)—in which case, Google will still be there for you, letting you stargaze and navel-gaze from the comfort of your own home. It won’t make you chicken soup…yet.
Discoblog: Google Brings You to Outer Space
Image: flickr / Pitel