Better health care sought in data

The Indian Health Service is using technology to collect and analyze data about the health of Native Americans, the first step in the process of delivering better health care.

The agency turned to SAS Institute Inc., a Cary, N.C.-based software firm, to help find out why there isn't more solid information about the health conditions of more than 1.5 million American Indians nationwide. The pilot project, launched six months ago, is focusing on three areas: childhood immunizations, diabetes and women's health.

"We're trying to determine what are the problems that prevent better reporting of what the Indian Health Service is doing, and how we can use our findings to develop a better strategy," said Mike Gomez, program manager for the Indian Health Performance Evaluation System.

The pilot project involves building a database that includes information on patients and their visits to health providers. The data will be used to identify specific health problems and determine whether the information gathered is complete and accurate.

The federal agency is spending less than $20,000 on the project. The data will be used to ensure that proper health care is being provided throughout the Indian Health Service system, and it will be available online, eliminating the lag time between the collection of data and the review of it.

"Being able to centralize the clinical data collected to a national level has helped the Indian Health Service rapidly and more accurately elevate the health status of American Indians and native Alaska populations," Gomez said.

This is the first time the health data of American Indians has been customized in this way.

The data is secured and protected by a firewall. "The Indian Health Service has gone to great lengths to make sure privacy act regulations are implemented," Gomez said.

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