The scientists who gained international attention in the spring when they brought a real-time map of swine flu outbreaks to the world are putting disease information about your neighborhood in the palm of your hand.
John Brownstein of Children's Hospital Boston and Clark Freifeld of MIT's Media Lab today announced Outbreaks Near Me, a free application designed for Apple's iPhone or iTouch devices that allows users to see information about infectious disease outbreaks where they are. The application, available here, is based on HealthMap, which gathers, evaluates, and maps data about emerging outbreaks based on Google searches, news reports, blogs, and chats in addition to traditional official sources.
"People have their cell phones with them at all times, and especially in other parts of the world, cell phones are much more used than PCs," Brownstein said. "Cell phones represent an extraordinary tool to provide location-based service. You can search for restaurants near you. Why not understand what is happening around you in public health?"
Outbreaks Near Me also lets users send their own reports, including photos, to the HealthMap team, which will review them for possible inclusion on its world map. The application will also send alerts about new outbreaks in the user's area, or tell them if they've just entered a new place where disease activity has been reported. Brownstein said they are looking at other devices where the application could be used.
Intended for both the general public and public health practitioners, HealthMap drew the most attention in its three years of existence in the spring, when a novel strain of flu known as H1N1 emerged in Mexico and quickly spread around the world.
"Historically what we have tried to do is to be accessible to everyday audiences, as opposed to being only a tool for epidemiologists," Freifeld said. "We've taken that a step farther and allow people to have HealthMap in the palms of their hands."
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
Elizabeth Comeau, Senior Health Producer