States, feds still struggle to share health information

Ever since the threat of an outbreak of anthrax or avian flu entered the national consciousness, state health departments have been working overtime to develop early warning disease surveillance systems. However, technical and policy gaps remain in the patchwork of systems that send data about disease outbreaks to national repositories, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS).

A recent report underscored those gaps.

The fifth annual study by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, titled “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health from Disease, Disasters and Bioterrorism,” listed 12 states with surveillance systems that are incompatible with NEDSS. Those states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut and Minnesota.

The issues include data formats, concerns about privacy and the tension that flares whenever the federal government imposes requirements on state officials without offering funding.

“The feds are preparing for [health emergencies], but it’s the locals who, if the deal goes down, will have the spotlight on them,” said David Siegrist, a senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute, a think tank that focuses on technology and national security.

Some states have launched sophisticated surveillance systems that detect unusual health problems or diseases occurring in unexpectedly high volumes. The systems sift through data from labs, hospital emergency rooms, physician practices and pharmacies looking for anomalies.

In Indiana, Health Data Center officials routinely share information with CDC to help coordinate regional response efforts, said Roland Gamache, the center’s director.

The challenge in the Hoosier state is sharing data that arrives on a variety of forms and in many formats.

Health Level 7, a standard for formatting medical data, works well for symptom and geographic information, Gamache said. But other data, such as lab results, often start out with proprietary codes based on the preferences of individual software vendors.

Questions also arise about whether to notify local or federal health authorities first when an outbreak occurs. Gamache advocates for the traditional approach of alerting local authorities first.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done revising the regulations that surround public health reporting,” said Dr. J. Marc Overhage, director of medical informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, a health research organization in Indiana. Officials “need to monitor the health of the population, and they need to intervene on certain patients.

The laws haven’t necessarily caught up with the electronic world yet.”

Joch (ajoch@worldpath.com) is a business and technology writer based in New England.
 

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group