Microsoft has just launched its H1N1 Response Center online, and I had the chance to speak this morning with David Cerino, General Manager of Microsoft Health Solutions Group (the man from HealthVault) and Arthur Kellermann, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Associate Dean at Emory School of Medicine, about this new creation.
On the surface, it's a very simple H1N1 Q&A to take if you think you might have the flu. It leads you through some questions and within a few screens tells you to go see your doctor or reassures you and suggests that you rest, push fluids, etc. Since estimates of likely H1N1 infections in the US this season range from 20% to 40% of the population (i.e., 60-120 million people) any triage tool like this should be welcomed by health care providers and public health officials around the country. In fact, they were involved in putting it together as a result of brainstorming sessions at a conference hosted by the Institute of Medicine on influenza-like illness in early September.
Working with Microsoft, this tool was put together in about a month, and the algorithm can be tweaked easily over time as new information about the disease and the pandemic come to light. (The current algorithm is adult-only. The under-12 set will be picked up within a couple weeks; the American Academy of Pediatrics is working on it.)
So far, so good: a questionnaire that you can review at home (i.e., without overwhelming waiting rooms and exposing yourself to sick people if you don't really need to see a medical professional) that gives you recommendations, links to resources, etc., related to your individual responses.
The next step: when you're done, the system prompts you to save your responses in your Health Vault PHR, or to set one up first if you don't have one yet. You can then authorize your doc — if he or she is on Health Vault — to see your responses. Sick people should get medical attention; the "worried well" should stay out of the way.
After that: the architecture can be put to use for other sorts of screenings. Cerino says Microsoft would welcome hearing from other expert partners who want to help build tools for other diseases.
But here's the real power of this tool: It has the potential to provide "epidemic intelligence in real time," according to Kellermann, citing a recent Science editorial coauthored by IOM Director Harvey Fineberg, entitled Epidemic Science in Real Time. By collecting a limited data set (including symptoms reported as well as zip code, age and gender), Microsoft would be able to map progress of any epidemic or public health event — not just H1N1, but also a foodborne illness outbreak, a potential bioterror incident, etc., etc., replacing the shoe leather approach, says Kellermann, represented by the hole in sole of the shoe proudly displayed in the logo (above) of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. If people opt in to share de-identified data, this tool has the potential to put Google Flu Trends to shame.
Look for more Microsoft partner links at the end of tools like this one; if you want to partner with Microsoft and have an idea for an online interactive questionnaire powered by a peer-reviewed algorithm that can appropriately direct people to your service, please get in touch and let's talk.
Kudos to David Cerino and his team for blending a contribution to the public health and the broadening of the Health Vault brand simultaneously — and look for plenty of links to this new site on Bing, MSN, MSNBC and other Microsoft web properties.
So: What other tools would you like to see tied into this architecture?