EMRs Could Be Valuable Allies in the War on Bioterrorism

  1. From Advance for Health Information Executives Newsletter

    Electronic Newsletter
    Vol. 2 * Issue 25
    January 10, 2002

    EMRs Could Be Valuable Allies in the War on Bioterrorism
    "Even in areas of the country where reporting of a small set of key infectious diseases is a legal requirement, physicians rarely comply," Dr. Alan Zelicoff told members of a House subcommittee last month, according to a Reuters report. "Why? The process is burdensome, inefficient and most importantly, almost never gives anything back to the physician that is of relevance to the patient she is caring for."

    The attitude that Zelicoff described is a common one-and one that could be deadly in the case of a bioterrorist attack. What would help, Zelicoff and others told the committee, is a way to link information effectively and in real time: in short, electronic medical records (EMRs).

    Dr. Michael Wagner of the University of Pittsburgh described how he and his colleagues had developed the Real-time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) system. The system, currently being developed by the Laboratory for Computational Epidemiology within the Center for Biomedical Informatics, can help detect the presence of a disease outbreak and help health officials to categorize an outbreak. RODS collects its data directly from EMRs, eliminating the need for special reporting by physicians.

    According to the Reuters report, Quintiles Transnational also testified, explaining how its electronic disease surveillance system could draw on the pharmacy and medical claims data in its drug and disease database to create a "national early warning system."

    "An important feature of this system would be its ability to monitor and report indicators of potential bioterrorist events automatically, electronically and rapidly," said John Russell, executive vice president of Quintiles Transnational. "The electronic claims payment system-the process by which health care providers get compensated for providing services-is automatic, in place and national in scope."

    Also testifying was Claire Broome of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC, she said, is currently working on its National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS). "NEDSS will include direct electronic linkages with the health care system," she told the subcommittee. "For example, medical information about important diagnostic tests can be shared electronically with public health as soon as a clinical laboratory receives a specimen or makes a diagnosis."

    All speakers seemed to agree that whatever approach is taken, progress needs to be made in collecting and analyzing this important information.

    For more information on "A Review of Federal Bioterrorism Preparedness Programs: Building an Early Warning Public Health Surveillance System," visit http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/...6/hearing.htm.
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