Infodemiology Can Help Provide Real-Time Answers for Employers
By Gail I. Cohen, Esq.
Assistant Director of Epidemiology
By Christine Warga
Senior Data Analyst
By Keemia Vaghef, PhD
Senior Business Intelligence Analyst
Real-time data is an important decision support tool that allows employers to be agile and optimize services. During the last decade, researchers have investigated whether big data can help detect epidemics by tracking search engine queries to provide real-time, actionable information for employers.1 This data-mining technique, described as infodemiology, uses risk-related keyword search data and has predicted syphilis, measles, and regional COVID-19 outbreaks earlier than routine disease surveillance.2,3,4 It may also help track and manage chronic noncommunicable diseases5 and could be especially valuable in disadvantaged areas where conventional surveillance is difficult to conduct. This public health technique can be used by employers to help determine what information is important to employees, especially in light of rapid changes during COVID-19. It can also help predict future demand.
Infodemiology helped us understand what type of information was needed by healthcare professionals and case managers to provide care and manage injury and illness claims during COVID-19. We analyzed search data from MDGuidelines, an online tool of medical condition information used mainly by occupational health clinicians and disability case managers. Results reflect a predominantly U.S. sample of workers’ compensation and disability markets across a variety of industries and might indicate future trends as the delta variant surge continues.
What the Data Shows
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), influenza, pneumonia, and upper respiratory infections were among the most searched medical topic pages, peaking at No. 4-, No. 13-, and No. 18-page ranks, respectively. That represents a sharp increase from No. 257, No. 43, and No. 189, respectively, six months earlier. In April 2020, MDGuidelines published COVID-19 content, and searches for influenza, pneumonia, and upper respiratory infections returned to pre-pandemic page views. The COVID-19 page remains one of the site’s top 25 most-viewed medical topics.
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