AI Insights Help App Users Plan for Convergence of Flu Season and COVID-19
83% of health-minded consumers are more concerned about flu season due to the global pandemic
November 23, 2020 - Consumers across the globe are facing a completely different flu season as cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. In fact, 83 percent of health-minded consumers are more concerned about the upcoming flu season due to COVID-19, according to research done by IBM’s The Weather Company. A surprising 73 percent plan to get a flu vaccine this year, whereas only 40 percent planned to get vaccinated in previous seasons.
“The potential intersections of COVID-19 and flu are numerous since both are viral infectious diseases with similar seasonal patterns and spread through similar, although not identical patterns, as well,” said Dr. William Kassler, chief medical officer for government health & human services, IBM Watson Health. “We don’t want to see outbreaks of both that overload the medical system and facilities, but fortunately, we know how to help avoid that: wear masks, social distance, get your flu shot, wash your hands.”
With both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 in mind, weather becomes a more critical health management tool for consumers across the globe. We’ve long understood that fluctuating weather patterns affect health conditions such as flu, seasonal allergies and migraines. The CDC estimates the flu is responsible for 12,000 – 61,000 deaths in the U.S. annually since 2010. The agency estimates COVID-19 has been the cause of more than 225,000 U.S. deaths since the pandemic began.
To provide actionable tips for daily planning and to help people better understand how weather impacts flu symptoms, The Weather Channel launched Flu Insights with Watson, an AI-powered tool that helps predict flu risk down to a U.S. ZIP code. New this year, users can now subscribe to notifications on rising flu risk in their area, which is an important way to manage health concerns through the fall and winter.
The Flu Insights tool leverages IBM Watson to surface and analyze secure data signals to predict health risks up to 15 days in advance – at a local level – using machine learning. The Weather Channel uses AI and advanced analytics to translate weather data, anonymized doctor data and other sources into actionable insights for users to assess their local risk.
The advanced technology improves the flu tracker experience by becoming more predictive about the spread and severity of the flu, down to ZIP code level. Since the introduction of Flu Insights with Watson in collaboration with CVS Pharmacy, The Weather Channel app has made it easier for those concerned about catching the flu, or experiencing flu-like symptoms, to better understand whether there’s heightened risk in their area and encourage them to take advantage of CVS offerings.
The collaboration serves contextually relevant ads, helping these users conveniently access resources from their local CVS Pharmacy during the height of cold and flu season. They can make an appointment for a flu shot or find out about any available promotions on remedies or over-the-counter medications that may ease early symptoms. Customers appreciate it – the Flu Insights with Watson feature for CVS reached more than 42 million consumers in critical planning moments versus other app feed health alerts.
“You have to be aware of what data and tools you’re using, but technology has certainly improved understanding of public health outside the medical field,” Kassler said. “The Weather Channel digital products use predictive analytics, data visualization and chatbots, for example – all of which I believe can be used in an impressive, helpful way to show people how health may be impacted.”
Trusted Data to Keep Track of COVID-19 Locally
AI and advanced data analytics help IBM deliver trusted, timely and localized information down to the county level in the U.S. for consumers and researchers. With data from global, state and local governments and the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 information hub helps people track cases and stay informed of what's happening in areas important to them. The tool is available on The Weather Channel app and weather.com (weather.com/coronavirus), as well as an interactive global dashboard driven by Watson and built on IBM Cognos Analytics on IBM's public cloud.
“The good news is that we all play a part – by getting a flu vaccine, you can minimize your own risk and the risk that communities face when local hospitals are overwhelmed,” Kassler said. “And you can protect yourself and others simply by keeping your distance, washing your hands and wearing a mask. If we adhere to these guidelines, we may end up seeing a less active flu season or decreased pandemic numbers – and those would be wonderful things.”
Get the latest local health updates from Flu Insights with Watson, Allergy Insights with Watson and the COVID-19 information hub by downloading The Weather Channel app on Apple App Store and Google Play Store this season. Subscribe for flu notifications within The Weather Channel app from “Manage Alerts” or directly on the Flu details page.
 The Weather and Health Impact Survey, IBM and The Weather Company, August 2020 with a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults 18-70 who check weather for health reasons.