A link in health info CHAIN

During the fall 2001 anthrax attacks, David Todd, president and chief executive officer of Invizeon Corp., felt ill and stayed home watching congressional testimony on C-SPAN. It was a momentous sick day for Todd, his company and perhaps the nations's public health infrastructure.

He heard officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the nation's public health infrastructure was inadequate and that it would take nearly another decade to improve it. Todd realized then that his health care technology company had already developed a Web-based platform to help communities collect, store and disseminate health information and alerts in real-time.

"It was almost a mirror match to what the CDC Health Alert Network [is]," said Todd, referring to a nationwide secure communications backbone being funded by the federal agency to improve information sharing among public health officials at all governmental levels as well as with doctors, labs and hospitals. "We were like years ahead."

Since then, Invizeon has demonstrated its Community Health and Alert and Information Network (CHAIN) to the CDC — which provided "encouragement" and guidance — state public health coordinators, and other communities. Invizeon has deployed the system in Missoula, Mont., where the company has its headquarters, and is also testing it in Portland, Ore.

Recently, the company also announced a partnership with AT&T to implement a full working demonstration in Missoula with the help of local government officials.

CHAIN is basically an enabling platform that allows several classes of users to send public health information via a Web interface, attach a level of importance to the advisory, and send it to any device preferred by the end user, such as cell phone, pager, fax, e-mail or personal digital assistant, said Joe Boyer, Invizeon's managing director for market development.

But the system's unique advantage is it can be used on a daily basis with users simply sharing information or sending it to a target audience, he said.

In Missoula, where it's been in place for 10 months, the eventual implementation of the AT&T Mobile Network (AMN) would expand the community's communications capability, eventually providing up to 1,000 city health officials and first responders an integrated and interoperable network, said officials.

Missoula's CHAIN-AMN program could serve as an important model as the nation tries to upgrade its long-neglected public health infrastructure, they said. National reports have shown that many public health offices in many rural regions lack adequate communications technology and would be vulnerable during bioterrorist attacks.

Alfred Gollwitzer, division general manager with AT&T Government Solutions, said, for example, a community might normally use a "phone tree" process where individuals manually call people from a list, notifying them of an emergency. Such a system is slow and could waste valuable time, he added.

In fact, the last time Missoula had to send out a major alert, its communicable disease expert and his two daughters were notifying people, said Deanna Rider, Invizeon's product development director. "And that's not atypical," she added.

Gollwitzer said AMN is an "enabling mechanism" that would manage the message translation protocols and distribute messages into various networks and devices, providing quick notification to critical parties. AMN would also notify the sender that the intended party received the message.

Officials said they could infuse new functionality, such as text to voice, and apply AT&T research and development advancements. AT&T would manage and host the program in Missoula and, as it grows, it would be moved to one of the company's larger data centers.

Gollwitzer said the program could also serve as a redundant system in other regions that have already invested heavily in their public health communications infrastructure, as required by the CDC.

Coincidentally, in a separate public/private initiative, Missoula plans to develop a "fiber hotel" — a facility to host public- and private-sector servers and telecom equipment — and construct a broadband fiber network in the downtown area. While such an infrastructure upgrade would improve the CHAIN-AMN program, AT&T and Invizeon officials said the program isn't incumbent on the broadband improvements.

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