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Big Data Helps Hospitals Get A Handle On The Flu

A portion of a graph generated by Mercy Health showing how many patients have tested positive for the flu.
Mercy Health
A portion of a graph generated by Mercy Health showing how many patients have tested positive for the flu.

Mercy Health and other hospital groups nationwide are getting a handle on the flu outbreak by using big data.

The daily information helps determine scope; if patients are getting seen by a doctor and have a hospital bed if they need it; and if supplies are going to the right place.

Mercy Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Anton Decker and other hospital administrators decided to break out the big data system, which Mercy also used during the Ebola outbreak, knowing sometimes if you misuse it, "people will get alert fatigue."

Mercy says this chart shows it has enough Tamiflu at this time.
Mercy says this chart shows it has enough Tamiflu at this time.

He says there are many advantages, "Being a very well-oiled machine, across multiple markets, being able to look at the data from almost 30,000 feet, start showing you things that you may not have seen like where you are getting spikes and things (like) are you low on something or how you can move something around."

According to Decker, the Mercy reports show the flu's peak hasn't passed.

The latest report shows Mercy Health has seen 10,382 confirmed cases of the flu in its ambulatory, emergency and inpatient locations with 338 positive tests on Monday alone. Four of the more than 10,000 cases were fatal.

The big data generates plenty of graphs including whether Mercy pharmacies have enough Tamiflu, a medicine said to shorten the flu's duration.

Decker says next flu season he hopes to start generating numbers earlier to see if Mercy can do something to intervene.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.