Health IT Offers Barriers, Solutions for Fighting Zika

The arrival of the Zika virus in the United States has caught local health departments and providers flat footed in terms of surveillance and detection thanks to outdated health IT systems.

“One of the big problems right now in being able to combat Zika is getting data from the community and being able to share that data rapidly with partners in order to determine where to invest resources and support,” said Kenyon Crowley, deputy director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS) at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, in an article by Health Data Management. “Public health departments that haven’t done a good job of implementing electronic health records (EHR) and surveillance systems in ways to exchange data across the different stakeholders are going to have a much harder time combating Zika than those that can quickly identify hotspots of trouble through data from the field and provide triage.”

To help local health departments better assess their IT shortcomings, Crowley, alongside researchers at the University of Maryland, have developed a tool called the PHIT Maturity Index that help departments “gauge their position in relation to a set of stages that progressively and incrementally detail better use of IT” to effectively and efficiently achieve their public health missions.

Over the course of their research, Crowley’s team found weaknesses in the ability of large EHR systems to track and monitor disease outbreaks like Zika.

However, vendors are starting to take notice. EHR vendor athenahealth has embedded guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into its Florida clients’ EHRs. The CDC guidance will help identify and warn the over 1,800 individuals at risk for Zika in the South Florida area who are being treated by 94 providers where local Zika virus transmission by mosquitoes appears to have occurred, Fierce Healthcare reported.

According to a blog post by Brian Anderson, MD, senior manager of clinical effectiveness at athenahealth, providers in the Miami, FL neighborhood where the Zika outbreak is concentrated are calling patients at-risk for transmission and are bringing them in for screenings.

“In the coming days, we will continue to partner with other affected client sites in Florida to replicate this process.  We’ll also be using the power of our network to study the volume and age distribution of Zika testing across the US,” Anderson wrote.

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