Northwell Health biosurveillance system provides real-time flu tracking; providers use telehealth to limit exposure

Businessman video-chats with doctor on laptop
Healthcare providers are using telehealth to limit flu exposure in urgent care clinics and EDs. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

Hospitals and health systems across the country are turning to new technology and analytics to help combat this year’s heightened flu season.

In New York, Northwell Health is using state-of-the-art biosurveillance system to track the flu in real time, according to CBS News. While data from state and federal agencies often lags by as much as two weeks, the data-driven program provides outbreak information within a 24-hour time frame. It highlights areas of New York that are seeing spikes in flu activity, allowing Northwell to devote the appropriate resources to areas where more patients may be seeking care.

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Last week, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were still seeing increased and sustained flu activity across the country, with 49 states reporting widespread activity during the first three weeks of the year.  

“We often see different parts of the country ‘light up’ at different times, but for the past three weeks, the entire country has been experiencing lots of flu, all at the same time,” Dan Jernigan, director the Influenza Division at CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said in a media call last week. “If we look at what is happening at doctor’s offices and emergency departments we are clearly seeing a lot of people going to see the doctor or being seen in urgent care settings.”

Some providers are using telehealth to limit that exposure. An official with Franciscan Health in Indianapolis told Indiana Public Media the system has seen increased utilization as more patient take advantage of virtual appointments.

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Telehealth kiosks have been installed in 97 North Texas Schools to connect students with doctors at Children’s Health in Dallas, according to a local NBC affiliate. Last year, the state passed a law allowing physicians to treat patients via videoconferencing without a prior in-person visit.

"This is a much better option than going to the emergency department for a non-emergent visit," Stormee Williams, M.D., a pediatrician at Children’s Health told the news station.