Biosentinel spreads health alerts
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Sep 16, 2002
A coalition of private-sector, nonprofit and research organizations in Indiana
has launched a technology model for the early detection of intentionally
released pathogens and other disease outbreaks.
Information would be relayed through a secure Web site (www.biosentinel.net) to the appropriate national, state and local public
health and emergency management agencies, municipal governments and local
emergency rooms, clinics and doctor's offices on a subscription basis.
Todd Bracken, chief executive officer of Bracken Foster and Associates
LLC, an Indianapolis-based management group that oversees the process, said
the patent-pending Biosentinel product would provide proactive notification
via e-mail, pagers or telephone calls of a possible outbreak much
earlier than how diseases are currently detected and reported. Quicker notification
means that authorities can take faster action to deal with a possible outbreak
or conduct a better investigation, he said.
"We're to [the public health and emergency management communities] what
the Doppler radar is to the weatherman," he said, adding that development
began earlier this year. "We're able to see waves of even naturally occurring
bio-events like a strong outbreak of the flu...on up to a bioterrorist attack."
The technology tracks sales of certain over-the-counter medications
at major pharmacy and grocery chains and other discounters. Bracken said
these statistics are the leading indicators of possible pathogenic outbreaks.
CVS Corp., a national pharmaceutical chain, has agreed to participate,
and other retailers and discounters are interested in providing information,
Bracken said, adding that such data collection would not violate any federal
privacy regulations. Data is collected every night and analyzed through
If a problem is detected, Bracken said subscribers would receive a text
message reading something like "a level on breach of X medical category
within ZIP code 65212." Subscribers could then log on to the Web site and
see the visual impact of the breach and supplemental information would be
Different messages would be sent to different types of subscribers.
For example, a doctor's office may receive a message indicating that if
patients exhibit particular symptoms, they should be triaged differently
and tests should be ordered, he said.
Bracken said the technology, available for the past two months, can
be easily and quickly replicated in other states.
Pricing would be based on the geographical area being monitored, he
said. For example, a county government subscribing to Biosentinel could
obtain information in a particular ZIP code, at a regional level or at a
state level. Bracken didn't mention pricing, but the Biosentinel Web site
indicates subscriptions "starting as low as $15,000, [and] unlimited site
licenses are available for state, region/MSA, county and local areas."
Bracken said he believed such a service was cost-effective, adding that
it would be equivalent to the cost of an intern working in city government.
"I quite frankly wish I could give it away," he said of the service.
The technology was developed in partnership with the Hudson Institute,
an applied research firm; Indiana's Health Industry, a nonprofit private-sector
initiative to advance the state's health sector; and the Indiana Technology
Partnership, a nonprofit economic development group for the technology industry.