Bio system on the watch for SARS

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

As fears of a new mystery illness spread around the world, Missouri recently announced the creation of a statewide electronic disease detection system through a public/private partnership.

The biosurveillance system, called HealthSentry, would eventually allow the state's 50 largest health care organizations and laboratories to report diseases through a central repository in a more accurate and timely manner.

Developed and administered jointly by Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based information technology health company, and the state Department of Health and Senior Services, the system is actually a continuation and expansion of a yearlong pilot project with metropolitan Kansas City. In that project, more than 22 labs were connected.

Kim Hlobik, project manager for Cerner, said HealthSentry is very complementary to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, currently being developed to provide integrated databases of demographic disease data for analysis and comparison across the country.

In Missouri, Cerner will collect data from the labs, standardize the nomenclature, and analyze and present it in a "digestible format" within 24 hours to public health departments. For example, if one facility calls anthrax by one term and another uses a more scientific term, Cerner would recognize the reports as referring to the same disease.

Hlobik said it's a far cry from the paper-based process the public health system has used in the past when data was mailed, faxed or sometimes called in. Illnesses also can be mapped at the ZIP code level, she added.

She said HealthSentry is a proprietary data model, but it uses existing investments already made in labs that send the data. She said more than 90 percent of labs across the country are automated. Patient data is encrypted so the company cannot see names, she said, but public health departments are allowed to see names in case there's an emergency.

She said it would take a year to connect all 50 health labs. She also said Cerner is in "close communication" with the CDC, as well as with other state and local governments, regarding the system.

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