02/22/2010 – The digital revolution has offered new ways to fight epidemics…but the question is: are they reliable?????

February 22, 2010 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

With the rapid advancement in Information Technology, it has become a difficult tasks for people to expect what new product will be coming next and in which form. Innovation can be in the form of new software, hardware, social networking products, and others.

Most of the people might not know about the fact that the uses of IT products such as iPhone apps, social networks, Wikipedia and flu-tracking sites have been used now-a-days to share information, shape conversations and keep tabs on health threats like never before.

By disseminating information quickly, people could be warned about outbreaks (such as the swine flu) sooner and preventive measures can be taken faster. This is the reason why IT experts are developing the products and applications that keep track of health threats and their spread percentage.

There would not be any problem at all if these IT products disseminate correct and reliable information all the time. But, these digital tools could open the door to mass panic from unreliable or false reports. The public, after all, is often unfamiliar with medical terminology and can mistake ordinary colds for more serious illnesses such as the swine flu. Also, there is no ample evidence that people are actually changing their behavior as a result of these tools.

The software developer Clark Freifeld and epidemiologist John Brownstein started HealthMap in 2006, first as a Web site before introducing apps for the iPhone in September and for mobile phones using the Android operating system later. There are now more than 100 H1N1 apps for iPhone — and several other apps dedicated to identifying, locating, and reporting the outbreak of epidemics; these digital tools could help people take preventive measures earlier than otherwise would have been the case, but they also open the door to mass panic from unreliable or false reports.

Generally, the reports on health cases from local officials have to be verified, so they take longer to reach federal agencies and ultimately to reach the public. Although HealthMap tries to verify each user-submitted report, it does not do so as vigorously. It is willing to take the chance that some inaccurate information slips through so that all the reports — good or bad — get out more quickly. Moreover, HealthMap is planning to get information out even faster by looking for the patterns in the symptoms reported by groups of people in an area, rather than waiting for an individual to report only cases confirmed with a doctor.

For this specific issue, it looks like IT industry is giving more focus on quick dissemination of information rather than on the reliability issues. In your opinion, which factor between these two  should be valued more?

Thanks for reading ~

Don’t forget to take the quiz on Blackboard.



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