Health IT vendor sets up CDC with free flu tracking network

The system created by Cerner Corp. reports info to CDC

Health information technology vendor Cerner has set up national electronic flu tracking system that is now reporting daily to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The network, built in cooperation with CDC, draws on data coming from approximately 1,000 emergency rooms, labs and doctors, all of which the company recruited from its network of clients. Cerner's customer base reaches up to 30 percent of the nation’s health care industry, according to Kelli Christman, a Cerner spokeswoman.

The system, which the company provides at no cost to CDC, tracks primarily the swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, along with seasonal flu.

Cerner’s flu surveillance system provides the CDC, clients and public health departments with situational awareness of local, regional and national swine flu activity, and can be customized to reflect a specific area, the company said. The goal is to help public health officials detect “hot spots” of flu activity and to prepare vaccines, treatments and other resources appropriately.

“We are providing a free service to enhance situational awareness,” said Christman. The system can be expanded to cover additional diseases or to cover health events such as negative reactions to vaccines, she said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius referred to the flu tracking program in a speech at a conference sponsored by Cerner Oct. 14 in Kansas City. Sebelius said the Cerner flu network will provide a “new model” for disease monitoring.

An advantage of Cerner’s electronic network is that it provides “real-time” information based on clinical records filed by providers, compared with reporting systems that use paper reports and faxes, resulting in data that is four to seven days old, according to Christman.

Cerner’s system is intended to complement the CDC’s other flu- and disease-tracking systems, including its newest network, Distribute, that receives data from emergency rooms. Other CDC surveillance systems include BioSense, the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System and the Influenza- Like Illness Surveillance Network.

Much of the disease tracking for public health occurs at the state and local levels. Public health officials have been debating how to improve those systems.

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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