New swine flu money could go for monitoring

Some of the $1.5 billion in emergency supplemental funds the White House has requested to fight swine flu could be spent to help  agencies improve disease tracking, alerts, notifications and other public health information technology.

The administration on April 28 asked Congress for the money to help deal with the swine flu outbreak in the upcoming fiscal 2009 supplemental war appropriations legislation. Some of that money could be used for monitoring, which is typically done electronically.

"Among the uses of these funds could be supplementing antiviral stockpiles; developing a vaccine; supporting the monitoring, diagnostic and public health response capabilities; and assisting international efforts to stem this outbreak,” President Barack Obama wrote congressional leaders.

Public health and industry leaders describe illness monitoring technologies that include IT systems, software and networks that detect new cases, send alerts, identify new cases and track the vectors of how the disease is spreading.

Additional IT systems could be used to help diagnose and treat illnesses, keep current tallies of available supplies and medications, and communicate with public health agencies and other officials.

It is too early to know how and where the swine flu monitoring technologies and efforts should be best applied because the patterns of spread of the illness are not yet clear. However, those patterns will become clearer soon, Dr. Harry Greenspun, chief medical director for Perot Systems health care group, told Federal Computer Week today.

“We need to know where and how it is spreading,” Greenspun said. “If it turns out to have a regional pattern, the funding may need to be focused regionally.”

Much of the public health monitoring and tracking is done at state and local levels, with federal authorities providing coordination and aggregating data in various tracking programs.

State systems could use additional funding for improvements to their disease tracking systems to make them operate better, more automatically and more comprehensively, said David Jackson, product manager for Utah Department of Health’s disease tracking system. Utah in January initiated the new open-source system with the Collaborative Software Initiative named the CSI TriSano system.

“We want to have automatic phone and e-mail notifications, and also things like calendaring,” Jackson said. “That is when someone puts in the date they became ill, so the investigator can instantly see the dates during which the person was likely exposed, probably contagious and spreading, and the dates they need to get treatment.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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