I read a News Story- Report: Illness Tracking is Faulty, Express Newspaper, September 20, 2011 (page 8), that concluded that real-time infection information would improve patient care.

It said: Doctors rarely know what bugs are brewing in the neighborhood until their waiting rooms start to fill. Harvard University researchers report Monday that getting real-time information on nearby infections could improve patient care – for strep throat alone, potentially helping tens of thousands avoid either a delayed diagnosis or getting antibiotics they didn’t need.

Today, hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and health departments report certain symptoms and diagnoses to the government. Biosurveillance tracks the spread of flu, detects the latest, whooping cough outbreaks, and watches for weird symptoms that might signal a brand-new disease or even bioterrorism.

But there’s no easy way for doctors to learn what their colleagues nearby are diagnosing. Instead, they often call the health department as they puzzle over a patient’s symptoms, says Dr. Alfred DeMaria of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Giving doctors a fast, ongoing snapshot of disease “would be very helpful,” says DeMaria, who wasn’t involved in the research. “The key is to make the system entirely automated and real-time.”

This story made me think of some data visualizations I had done on the spread of the H1N1 Virus as part my work on the Atlas of Science Contest Entry: See Part 4: Science Maps in Action – Example: Google Map of H1N1 Outbreak in the Summer of 2009.

This visualization showed the following:

The initial outbreak of H1N1 in the US was slow moving.

Starting with a handful of cases initially, it remained geographically isolated in the initial 4 weeks.

However, it quickly gained momentum growing from 18 individual confirmed cases in week four to more than 650 in week 6, when it went national, and quickly accelerating to over 10,000 in week 10.

Confirmed cases continued to grow steadily, topping out over 50,000 19 weeks after the initial outbreak.

Source: An overview of the spread of the Summer ’09 outbreak of the H1N1 virus in the continental United States. Uploaded with permission from TIBCO Spotfire as a best practice example for health data visualization. This demonstrated that one can do Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence (2006) “sparklines” (writing with data graphics) with Tibco Spotfire Bookmarks!