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IBM Joining Forces with CDC and Others to Reduce Public Health Threats Worldwide

by Deborah Hirsch

I remember when West Nile Virus, carried by mosquitoes, first came to the attention of Connecticut residents several summers ago, and the frantic, furious spraying of our neighborhoods to prevent an outbreak. The conflicting, confusing reports of how many people had it, where it was most prevalent, and all the ways you were supposed to be able to prevent it.

But IBM scientists, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Data Standards Consortium (PHDSC) now want to make that kind of situation a thing of the past, joining to standardize the exchange and use of public health information to improve healthcare quality and coordination of care to reduce epidemic outbreaks.

They’ll do so through the use of electronic health records (EHR), according to IBM.

Partly to comply with new state and federal efforts to align public health case reporting with Meaningful Use requirements, but also to provide access to critical information, the group will help national, state and local public health agencies better manage communicable illnesses and respond quicker to infectious diseases outbreaks.

Smallpox killed 300 million people worldwide in the 20th century alone, according to the blog The diseases are out there, they’re deadly, they’re spreading and they’re a huge threat to public health around the world.

In the past, “irregular and delayed public health reporting due to a lack of standardized electronic reporting often created inconsistencies and duplication of efforts,” according to a statement by IBM.

But IBM Research, working with the CDC and PHDSC, is developing a new way to define and deliver public health reporting by pulling together information from disparate systems that previously could not be integrated to allow analysis and draw insights from the combined data.

Scientists are creating templates for public health case reports that could work with EHR systems, allowing critical information in the proper format to be easily shared among local, county, state and federal public health agencies to speed response times to public health issues.

And by leveraging existing templates, EHR systems can automatically capture most doctor visits, test results or prescribed medications, allowing public health professionals a way to publish and maintain jurisdiction-specific templates, and EHR vendors with tools to rapidly adopt these templates for reporting purposes, reducing the time needed to report new or updated case information to public health.1

1Health Tech Zone, "IBM Joining Forces with CDC and Others to Reduce Public Health Threats Worldwide"