Ebola Map courtesy of blog.biowebspin.com

The Ebola outbreak triggered a nationwide panic attack. Ebola, like the swine flu pandemic in 2009, largely brought out the worst in us – the irrational, the paranoid, and the racist.

While fears spiralled in first world countries, the World Health Organization reported on Oct. 25 that there have been 10,141 cases in eight countries and 4922 deaths. Of those 10,141 cases, only five are from developed countries.

The focus needs to be on how to efficiently alleviate the cases in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. While grassroots efforts of organizations like Doctors without Borders are key to addressing immediate medical needs, healthcare information technology has also played an important role in helping researchers glean useful data to predict Ebola spread patterns.

French-African mobile phone carrier Orange Telecom gathered data from Senegal in 2013 from 150,000 phones. That data was given to Swedish nonprofit organization Flowminder to analyze. By assessing patterns in how Ebola spreads, health workers know which areas need support more urgently than others.

Also using mobile technology to help with the Ebola containment effort is Dr. Aydogan Oczan at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Oczan has invented 3D-printed microscope that can be attached to a cellphone, effectively turning the cellphone into a low-cost diagnostic tool.  His technology means that blood tests can be administered nearly anytime and anywhere.

These examples illustrate a bigger picture - the utility of healthcare information technology in enhancing workflow, collecting data, and analyzing that data. By developing technology that enables medical professionals to gather and interpret data, useful insights about disease progression and transmission can be extracted from large health data sets.

While it will still be some time before the data collected through Klio Health will be large enough to derive epidemiological insights on a global or even national level, we are already helping healthcare providers discover patterns about the population of patients under their care.