01 May 2009

"The Network" Newsletter, Part 4: HealthMap Update

by John Brownstein, PhD, ISDS Board of Directors

This article is a part of a series that will be published in the Global Outreach newsletter, "The Network." A pdf version of "The Network" is coming soon!

Developed by the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP) at the Harvard Medical School, the HealthMap prototype (HealthMap.org) is an openly available public health intelligence system that brings together disparate data sources to produce a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. HealthMap is a multi-stream and multilingual real-time surveillance platform that continually aggregates reports on new and ongoing infectious disease outbreaks. The system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases, facilitating knowledge management and early detection. It serves to bring structure to an information flow that would otherwise be overwhelming to the user or obscure important and urgent elements. HealthMap relies on a variety of electronic media sources including online news sources through aggregators such as Google News, expert-curated discussion such as ProMED-mail, and validated official reports from organizations such as the WHO. Currently, the system collects reports from 18 sources, which in turn represent information from over 20,000 Web sites, every hour, 24 hours a day. Internet search criteria include disease names (scientific and common), symptoms, keywords and phrases. The system collects an average of 300 reports per da. HealthMap has processed over 200,000 alerts across 171 disease categories and 202 countries or semi-autonomous/overseas territories since it was launched in October of 2006.

HealthMap is designed to provide a starting point for real-time intelligence on a broad range of emerging infectious diseases for a diverse range of end users, from public health officials to international travelers. The system currently serves as a direct information source for approximately 10,000 unique visitors per day, as well as a resource for libraries, local health departments, governments (e.g., the US Department Health and Human Services and Department of Defense), multinational agencies (e.g., the United Nations) and nonprofit organizations (Wildlife Conservation Society, PBS), which use the HealthMap data stream for day-to-day surveillance activities. Many regular users come from the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Through a direct RSS feed, a number of organizations, ranging from local health departments to national organizations such as US Health and Human Services (e.g.: used during the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions), the US Department of Defense, USGS, and the Wildlife Conservation Society all leverage the HealthMap data stream for day-to-day surveillance activities. HealthMap has also been featured in a number of mainstream media and scientific publications, including Wired News, Lancet, Nature, and Science, indicating the broad utility of such a system, extending beyond public health practice. Preliminary descriptions of HealthMap have now been published as peer-reviewed articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, EuroSurveillance and PLoS Medicine.

Swine Flu News on HealthMap

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