Symptom Radar is an online service that maps the number of patients in Finland who are experiencing symptoms possibly caused by Covid-19. Developed by the digital engineering company Futurice and the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the service provides open data to scientists on how the coronavirus may be spreading in Finland.
“We wanted to give people a sense of agency and self-efficacy by providing them a simple way to help, instead of just passive isolation”, Joonas Nissinen from Futurice says. Image credit Vilja Pursiainen.
At the beginning of March 2020, the coronavirus had just arrived in Finland. There was no comprehensive knowledge of the specific symptoms of the virus nor how far it had spread. The progression of the epidemic was reported based on confirmed cases, but at the same time, testing for the virus was very scarce.
As the Finnish government was closing public spaces and offices, digital engineering consultancy Futurice’s data scientist Joonas Nissinen was at home suffering from flu-like symptoms. Was it Covid-19? There was no way of knowing. Getting tested for the virus was difficult, and googling the symptoms provided no clear answer. People were instructed to just stay at home if they had any flu-like symptoms.
Sitting at home, Nissinen felt the need to do something to help us understand the epidemic and how it progresses. What if there was a service where people could tell about their symptoms and see what kind of symptoms other people had? From this idea, the Symptom Radar was invented.
Over 170,000 people have shared their symptoms
Developed by the digital engineering consultancy Futurice and the leading Finnish daily news media Helsingin Sanomat, the Symptom Radar provides an online survey where people can tell about their symptoms. The service maps the number of patients showing what kind of symptoms people are experiencing in different areas in Finland.
“We wanted to give people a sense of agency and self-efficacy by providing them a simple way to help, instead of just passive isolation. By providing information on their symptoms, people can help us understand how the virus is spreading”, Nissinen says.
From the start, it was clear that to make the service work it needed to attract a lot of users. To make this happen, Futurice partnered up with Helsingin Sanomat, a widely trusted Finnish news media organisation. By now, over 170,000 people have answered the survey, and all the other major news media have also spread the word.
“The more people participate, the more comprehensive data we get”, says Pauliina Siniauer, data producer from Helsingin Sanomat.
“By studying the trends in different areas or combining the data with other data sets it could be possible to gain more understanding on the progress of the epidemic”, Nissinen explains. Image credit Vilja Pursiainen.
Open data for scientists, officials and decision-makers
The survey was designed together with the Department of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, and all of its data is published as open and anonymous data for everyone to use.
“When the service was created, there wasn’t much open data on the progression of the epidemic in Finland. We wanted to make the data open for universities, doctors, scientists and decision-makers to use”, Siniauer says.
So far, a lot of data has been collected and Helsingin Sanomat has published a few articles based on it. Helsingin Sanomat has also compared and found similarities with the survey data and data from the Finnish public authority, Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare (THL). The next step is to further analyse the data based on for example time, location, age and gender. Helsingin Sanomat and Futurice hope that other organizations will also start using the data for new research and applications.
“Of course we cannot know, with certainty, whether the symptoms described in the survey are caused by Covid-19 or something else. However, by studying the trends in different areas or combining the data with other data sets it could be possible to gain more understanding on the progress of the epidemic”, Nissinen explains.
The Symptom Radar will soon be published in English too. You can participate and read more about the service here.