A team of researchers from the Swedish Ministry of Health set out to improve infectious disease reporting among the general population utilizing a combination of technologies including the Internet and interactive voice response, or IVR, applications.
Disease reporting is typically the domain of medical professionals, and data is gathered either directly from doctor’s offices or via labs performing testing. The researchers conducting the study point out that “these data collection mechanisms often lack anchorage in the underlying population”. In order for medical professionals to obtain data reports, patients must choose to visit the doctor, meaning that there are potentially large swaths of the population who are infected but not reported.
The primary goal of this study was to ascertain whether the use of technology, and beyond that the use of different technologies, would positively contribute to the quantity and quality of disease reporting and tracking. The researchers also queried whether or not the actual reporting method (i.e. IVR or the Internet) was an important variable in the decision to self-report infection.
Their findings? There were marked demographic differences between those who used interactive voice response and those who utilized the Internet: “Women, older individuals, and individuals with a lower-level of education were over-represented in the IVR group, while participants younger than 65 years and those with a higher level of education were over-represented in the web group.”
Participants chose their favored reporting method, and interestingly enough, most of them stuck with their preferred technology for the duration of the 36-week period. Of note is the fact that in order to participate, respondents would need to have access to either the phone or the Internet. In Sweden, where the study was conducted, connectivity is through the roof. However, this could be a larger issue in poorer, less tech-savvy countries.
The researchers concluded that: “information and communication technologies have the potential to logistically implement a population-based influenza surveillance system where reports can be registered with short-time delay”. This is good news for all involved, as it indicates that data on infection rates improves in both quantity and quality when technology is used and the general population is solicited for input.
Residents of many countries have either the phone, the Internet, or both technologies reasonably accessible, so this method of self-reporting could prove to be an efficient, effective way to gather population generated statistics on infection rates for contagious and communicable diseases.
The ability to monitor the contraction and spread of a disease at its very early stages, and within the general population, is an invaluable tool in the fight against disease, and this early information and warning signs may not only provide helpful data, but also save lives.