Skip to main content

Obama health care example shows early H1N1 tracking success


"[W]e need to build on the examples of outstanding medicine at places like... Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, where high-quality care is being provided at a cost well below the national average."

- President Barack Obama, speech to the American Medical Association, on his health care initiative, June 15, 2009

President Barack Obama pitches health care reform to the
American Medical Association during their annual meeting in
Chicago, Monday, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

You've heard them mentioned in President Obama's speeches, and in subsequent town hall meetings he held in places like Green Bay, Wisconsin, and online, from Northern Virginia Community College. It turns out that the cost for quality care is not the only thing the President may appreciate about the nonprofit Intermountain Healthcare. The Salt Lake City based company is also one of the country's largest health information exchanges, being one of the earliest implementers of a structured electronic health record system. EHR is also one of the planks in President Obama's health care reform plan.

According to Dr. Per Gesteland (JES-te-land), a pediatrics professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Intermountain's virus reporting data architecture, called Germ Watch, gave the statewide system an advantage in being one of the first to publish reports on H1N1. The first reports from the system, which covers hospitals and doctors' offices in "every major population center" in Utah, Gesteland said, came out in early May. The first cases of swine flu had only first been identified the last week in April.

Gesteland was addressing a seminar, Wednesday, at the 2009 Public Health Information Conference being held this week in Atlanta. He told the group that Germ Watch, which returns data on reportable, respiratory viruses, noted the first Utah death from H1N1 at the end of May, and properly tracked the rise of the disease in the state.

"The only thing we had to add to the RSV reporting," he said, "was subtyping, something that we talked about before," but the push from the H1N1 outbreak made it necessary to add subtyping - a way to differentiate differnet types of influenza A viruses - to the reported data sooner.

That admission echoed similar discussions from other public health monitoring groups, including the World Health Organization, whose international representative, Dr. Tiers Boerman, told the PHIN conference attendees Tuesday, that H1N1 "accelerated many developments" in the field of EHRs. has an entire topic page with links to swine flu stories

Like this column? Follow Perry @atlpol on Twitter, or just click on the "Share" icon below and Digg it, share it on Facebook, or whatever avenue you prefer. You can also Email me at
If you like my editorial bent, check out the archives on my blog,


  • Lisa Frank - Buckhead Examiner 4 years ago

    You're an excellent journalist. We need to hear your voice again.