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How Health Organizations Leverage Analytics to Predict and Measure Outbreaks

Read Time: 2 minutes

Due to the recent and growing novel coronavirus outbreak, health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are keeping a close eye on the disease’s sprawl. The reports from these organizations impact the world on a monumental scale by prompting airlines to stop service to certain areas, manufacturers to halt production, and entire cities – like Wuhan, China – to be placed on lockdown. 

How do health organizations track diseases? Analytics and Data Visualization

Considering how disastrous poor reporting would be, what do these organizations do to ensure reliable information makes it to the public? All signs point to analytics and data visualization. 

Tools Used for Disease Tracking

According to the CDC’s website, the organization begins its research into possible outbreaks of disease with a tool called PulseNet. PulseNet “uses DNA fingerprinting of bacteria making people sick, to detect thousands of local and multistate outbreaks.” In the United States, PulseNet leverages 82 health laboratories across all 50 states to track the spread of bacteria. By mapping each bacteria’s genome, they can also detect which specific strains are causing the most problems and whether or not the disease appears to be mutating to become more drug-resistant and/or more easily spread.

Protocols for International Disease Reporting & Epidemic Surveillance

The WHO, which operates on a much larger scale, says the following components go into its epidemic surveillance efforts:

  • Setting international epidemic surveillance standards
    • Includes international testing and reporting protocols
  • Technical assistance to “Member States” in surveillance activities, training, and laboratories
  • Maintenance of “international collaborating networks”

Using Data to Tell the Story: Data Visualization

With strong surveillance, research and reporting protocols in place, the WHO and the CDC can aggregate data and track the progression of diseases in real-time. Team members at these organizations leverage analytics and data visualization the way many businesses do, from data lake creation, cleansing and normalization, to analytics and visualization. 

Here’s a simple data visualization of the spread of influenza in the United States provided to the general public: Influenza Activity Map.

The WHO, which tracks numerous diseases that could lead to an epidemic, has a menu of diseases of serious concern with consistent updates on each. The organization is providing daily “situation reports” on the spread of the coronavirus across China and the globe. These reports contain heat point maps of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Forecasting the Spread of Disease

With a foundation of historical and real-time analytics, the WHO and CDC can begin forecasting the spread of disease with predictive analytics. Through predictive analytics, they’re better able to anticipate which areas will need more medical professionals in place, increased medical supplies and testing, and improved education regarding preventative hygiene and behaviors the public should follow to reduce the spread of disease. 

Practical Application of Data Management and Data Visualization

7T’s data management product, Sertics, has enabled American insurance organizations to conduct similar analysis and forecasting, including prescription drug mapping. At this point in time, data is truly indispensable. Learning how to use data to inform decision-making and predict unforeseen circumstances is beneficial to organizations of all kinds, from global health organizations to privately owned businesses. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how data lake creation and data management can impact your company, reach out to 7T today. Our Texas-based team is ready and willing to answer any questions you may have. 

Reach out to our team today!

Lacey Williams-McGhee

Lacey Williams is a marketing professional and Harvard graduate student living in the great state of Texas. When she's not working at 7T's headquarters, she can be found on the next flight to the Bahamas, hanging out with her husband and fluffy golden retriever, or studying! Lacey earned a B.A. in journalism from Baylor University. Sic 'em!


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