In the U.S., many flu surveillance sites already rely on computers to report flu data. Reports of flu-like symptoms can be sent electronically from emergency rooms and doctor's offices where they are eventually compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But in developing countries, like Kenya, where the medical infrastructure isn't developed enough to support a similar nationwide network, smartphones could help bridge the gap to pass disease information quickly and accurately.
The CDC says smartphones are showing promise as tools to monitor disease surveillance in developing countries. Not only were smartphones cheaper to use after initial setup costs, but data collected using smartphones led to less errors and duplication of data.
The findings come from a joint study by the Kenya Ministry of Health and researchers from the CDC and were presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (.pdf document, see pg. 77) in Atlanta on Monday.
Researchers at four flu surveillance sites in Kenya took data from patients with flu-like symptoms—half using traditional paper methods, the other half using the HTC Touch Pro 2 smartphone. The phones were loaded with a Field Adapted Survey Toolkit (FAST).
Researchers found that smartphone data was uploaded into the flu surveillance database within eight hours, compared to an average of 24 days it would take to input the paper data. Only 3 percent of FAST surveys were incomplete compared to five percent of paper surveys. And seven paper surveys had duplicated patient information. No information was duplicated on surveys using a smartphone.
Researchers estimate the cost of running a paper-based program at $61,830, compared to $45,546 for a smartphone data collection system.
Each year, influenza kills an estimated 25,000 people in the U.S. and causes more than 220,000 hospitalizations, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Epidemiologists say the 2011-2012 flu season has been fairly mild.
♦ Photo: U.S. Army/flickr