Google helps Aetna track, prepare for flu epidemic


Hoping to avoid a financial hit like the 2009 flu season, Aetna has been using the Google Flu Trends index to track the status of this season's flu.

Although Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini doesn't think this season's flu epidemic will reach the 2009 level, which cost the company more than $100 million, he told the Fox Business Network it still could cost between $50 and $100 million.

And since this flu season started early and quickly became widespread, more health insurance members may be receiving medical care and driving up costs for insurers. To help financially prepare itself for heightened flu activity, Aetna uses the Google tracker, which often provides information faster than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We watch not only the CDC data, we actually knew before the CDC report that the flu was going up because we watch Google," Bertolini said in an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "And Google searches actually about significant illnesses or procedures tend to drive or predict utilization."

Additionally, Aetna actuaries and medical management employees meet once a month to determine specifics about flu trends. For example, Bertolini said, the team analyzes whether a flu spike will result in a major problem, including increased hospitalizations, or if it will subside relatively quickly.

Bertolini said that, based on Google data, the flu epidemic already is abating. "We saw an early spike and we saw it go down. Now the question is do we see a double spike or do we just see it start to plateau?"

To learn more:
- watch the Bertolini interview

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