Can Information Systems Help Prevent a Public Health Crisis? CASE STUDY
f you turn on the television, read a newspaper, or surf the Web, you’re bound to find many dire predictions about large-scale loss of life from biological or chemical attacks or an avian influenza pandemic. Computer models estimate that between 2 and 100 million people could die in the event of a flu pandemic, depending on the characteristics of the virus. Fears of a major public health crisis are greater now than ever before, and governments throughout the world are trying to improve their capabilities for identifying biochemical attacks or pandemic outbreaks more rapidly. On May 3, 2006, the United States government issued an Implementation Plan for its National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza to improve coordination among federal, state, and local authorities and the private sector for pandemics and other public health emergencies. The implementation plan calls for improving mechanisms for real-time clinical surveillance in acute care settings such as hospital emergency rooms, intensive care units, and laboratories to provide local, state, and federal public health officials with continuous awareness of the profile of illness in communities. One such initiative is the BioSense Real-Time Clinical Connections Program developed by the U.S. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). BioSense sits atop a hospital’s existing information systems, continually gathering and analyzing their data in real time. Custom software developed by CDC monitors the facility’s network traffic and captures relevant patient records, diagnoses, and prescription information. The data include patient age, sex, ZIP code of residence, ZIP code of the medical facility handling the patient, the principal medical complaint, symptoms, onset of illness, diagnoses, medical procedures, medications prescribed, and laboratory...