Public Health Forecasting Will Save Money

An Irish research team hopes to help the HSE make significant annual cost savings by providing accurate forecasts of key public health indicators such as how many people will catch the flu in the coming winter.

Researchers at the University College Cork (UCC) School of Medicine have teamed up with Intrade, a Dublin-based technology firm, to develop an innovative forecasting method which involves tapping into the "wisdom of crowds". The project is being led by Dr Dylan Evans, lecturer in behavioural science at UCC, and is funded by an Innovation Partnerships Feasibility Study Award from Enterprise Ireland.

Dr Evans and his team plan to carry out a pilot study to investigate possible uses of so-called "prediction markets" to forecast key indicators of public health in Ireland. "Prediction markets are specialised, small-scale financial markets operated to predict future events. The idea is that the collected knowledge of many people, each with a different perspective, will be more accurate than an individual or small group or even experts," he said.

"When they have been used to predict the outcomes of political elections, prediction markets have been found to be more accurate than alternative methods of forecasting." Dr Evans, who recently moved to Ireland from Britain, said prediction markets could prove very valuable tools for health services around the world, but so far they had not been extensively trialed in medical contexts.

"The obvious area to look at in the first instance is infectious disease, but we plan to extend our research into many other areas of public health. At the moment, people do not get data on infectious disease until it's a couple of weeks out of date and we need to get it quicker." The idea, according to Dr Evans, is to tap into the knowledge lurking in the brains of GPs, microbiologists and others working on the ground in the health services and to access this data faster instead of always relying on "expert groups".

By accurately forecasting the number of people who will get flu in the coming winter for instance, Dr Evans said the HSE would be able to order the correct quantity of vaccine to cover the country's needs.