Google Flu Trends: Hawaii Doctors Don’t Like It

Some local physicians don’t think the search engine’s aggregated search data for the flu is accurate.


We are a Googling world. So much so, that this year, the search engine giant created its flu trends, based on “aggregated Google search data to estimate current flu activity around the world in near real-time.”

Google breaks down its flu trends using a map of the U.S. as well as graphs showing a month-to-month tracking. It even goes back as far as the 2006-2007 flu season. Hover your mouse over a state and you can see how bad the flu is there, even down to specific cities. Lingering my mouse over the map shows that states either have “intense” or “high” flu activity. Except for South Dakota, which has “moderate” activity levels. Here in Hawaii, and Honolulu? Google says “high.”

But local health-care professionals aren’t buying it. “We’re not overflowing [in our hospitals, or doctor’s rooms,], we’re not seeing people left and right who are sick,” says state epidemiologist Sarah Park. “It’s not accurate, at least not for Hawaii.”

“Oh, I don’t look at Google flu trends,” says Queen’s Medical Center emergency room physician Kyle Perry matter-of-factly.

Perry says he turns to the CDC website for flu statistics, as does Park, who also points out the state Department of Health flu website tracks the flu locally.

“These are scientific and based on [physician] visits,” says Park.

Even so, Park acknowledges the power behind Google. “From a public health education standpoint, it does get the message out about flu.”

For current information about the flu in Hawaii, read The Flu Isn't Coming. It's here.

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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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