The surprise swine flu outbreak last spring moved the conversation about electronic health records from theoretical to practical, according to local, national and international public health monitoring agencies attending the Public Health Information Network Conference, this week, in Atlanta.
CDC-developed PCR diagnostic test to detect novel H1N1 virus.
(Photo Credit: CDC/Greg Sykes, ATCC)
The H1N1 pandemic is "an opportunity to identify needs" in the exchange of electronic health information, observed Dr. David Hunt, Chief Medical Officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Indeed, nascent health information exchange programs across the US have found themselves poked and prodded by the outbreak, and seem to have successfully endured the epidemic's opening salvo well. "Our HIE system was validated by H1N1," said Jeff Hussinger, a telecommunications analyst with the City of Milwaukee's health department.
Hussinger said that the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange was originally established to relieve overstretched emergency departments and other public health workers of the tedious - but extremely necessary - task of filling out paperwork to report outbreaks of illnesses like H1N1. The exchange will also be used to track the dispensing of flu vaccines to the groups targeted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Having the initial outbreak of swine flu happen in North America, was "both unfortunate, and fortunate," said the World Health Organization's Dr. Tiers Boerma, because there was already an infrastructure established for tracking the spread of disease domestically. The WHO itself had set up a strategic health information system back in 2004 to track the SARS outbreak that year, but, according to Boerma, H1N1 "accelerated many developments" in the field.
Boerma also revealed that last spring, the WHO was three months away from rolling out a flu identification application. When the swine flu began to spread, they put a rush on it and "we finished it in three weeks," he said.
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