December 16, 2013
Viral thinking: can the pattern of mobile phone use help detect outbreaks of illness?
A recent study has revealed that patterns of mobile phone use can highlight intriguing aspects of human behaviour – even down to the spread of diseases. The implications of this discovery are potentially enormous, but is society ready for such high levels of surveillance? Enterprise Vodafone reports.
Conventional methods of monitoring the spread of disease depend on reports from doctors and swab tests by public health laboratories. But, by the time reports are filed and test results are collated, it’s usually too late. It can take days from the first snivel to a firm flu diagnosis – days in which disease can spread.
What’s always been clear is that reasonable predictions, rather than firm diagnoses, are far more useful in the quest to monitor and control the spread of disease. But making those predictions has always been a matter of informed guesswork – until now.
New research reveals that smartphones, rather than stethoscopes, could provide a faster and more accurate indication of who is ill and how illnesses spread. The findings are contained in a study that used “socially aware” mobile phones to monitor students’ behaviour at MIT. “This technology could be an early-warning system to enable us to spot outbreaks of influenza,” says Anmol Madan, a human dynamics specialist at MIT and author of the study.
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