February 10, 2011

New online tool helps assess severity of flu symptoms

New online tool helps assess severity of flu symptoms

If you come down with flu-like symptoms, do you know how to tell if you should see your health care provider?

The “My Health at Vanderbilt” team has launched a new online Flu Tool that provides personalized guidance based on answers to a few questions about symptoms and underlying health conditions.

The Flu Tool will be available through MyHealthatVanderbilt.com, VanderbiltHealth.com and ChildrensHospital.Vanderbilt.org.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to know whether you should see a health care provider,” said Jim Jirjis, M.D., MBA, director of the Adult Primary Care Center and Chief Medical Information Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Our goal is to help patients make the right decisions about whether basic home care will be sufficient. They might benefit from anti-viral therapy and should see a physician, or they might be suffering from something more serious and need to be seen right away.”

The tool builds on the strong informatics infrastructure and culture available at VUMC, said S. Trent Rosenbloom, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics, Medicine and Pediatrics.

“My Health at Vanderbilt is one of the best-used patient portals in the country,” Rosenbloom said. “The Flu Tool will provide a tremendous service to our patients, and will help their health care provider efficiently personalize their care.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned earlier this month that the flu season has not yet peaked and advised that there is still time to have a flu vaccine.

However, if you are sick with flu-like illness — fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea — the CDC recommends that you stay home and away from others for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine), except to get medical care or for other necessities.

Emergency warning signs in children include fast or troubled breathing; bluish skin color; not drinking enough fluids; not waking up or interacting; being so irritable that he or she does not want to be held; a return of fever and cough following improvement of flu-like symptoms; or fever with rash.

In adults, warning signs include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or sudden pressure in chest or abdomen; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting.