Client Showcase: University of Wisconsin Department of Population Health Sciences

This year at The University of Wisconsin, the Department of Population Health Sciences is encouraging students, faculty and staff to download a smartphone application to report flu symptoms. The initiative is called OutSmart Flu and the mobile app is now available on Google Play and the App Store. Students will begin seeing promotions and volunteers around campus encouraging them to participate. With this experiment, flu outbreaks can be closely monitored in real-time and brought to attention quicker than before. The experiment incorporates mobile technology, crowdsourcing and social sharing. From the data collected through the application, the Department of Population Health Sciences will have access to real-time flu activity. Reports of flu activity at UW Madison will be shared with the community in hopes that people will take more preventative measures and stay healthy.

The flu epidemic is something that happens every year. Between September and May with a peak in the colder winter months, many people in the US are at risk of catching the flu. In more crowded and enclosed places such as a college campus, it can be a lot harder to avoid catching the flu. Students that catch the flu are likely to miss a few classes, possibly exams and other important parts of life on campus. What if there was a way to have an early detection of the flu on a college campus? Knowing the flu is going around a place such as a college campus may encourage more people involved with the institution to get a flu vaccine, wash their hands more frequently and get more rest. 

Up until now at The University of Wisconsin, flu activity on campus has been monitored by University Health Sciences and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu is monitored by the campus clinic reporting when students come in with flu-like symptoms. In 2010, Google released that they could detect flu outbreaks two weeks sooner than the CDC due to many people searching their symptoms and potential illnesses online prior to visiting a doctor.

Led by University of Wisconsin Associate Professor in Public Health Sciences Dr. Ajay Sethi and doctoral student Christine Muganda, OutSmart Flu will compare how crowdsourcing and a mobile app measures against traditional flu surveillance methods. Students, faculty and staff that download the app and participate in the experiment will be entered to win $500 raffles three times throughout the flu season. The experiment has been able to come to life using a white-labeled SurveySwipe mobile application from Survey Analytics and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

From Dr. Ajay Sethi: 
Dr. Ajay Sethi of UW Madison
"Our Survey Analytics Account Manager Greg Bender has been great and just like a personal consultant. He has rather quickly customized a lot of things to make the platform meet our exact needs for this project. With OutSmart Flu, we wanted to create an app that allows students to report that they aren't feeling well — data which we process and provide back to students in near-real time. If you have a cold and someone comes up to you to shake your hand, you might altruistically say, ' Sorry, you don't want to touch me; I've got some sort of bug.' Well, with OutSmart Flu, we are giving students a chance to alert their peers that they might have something that's going around."

Stay tuned for more details, an official press release and check back for more OutSmart Flu updates throughout the 2013-14 UW Madison school year.