CDC link will let Kansas network track health threats in real time

Wichita EagleNovember 30, 2012 

The Kansas Health Information Network has become the first health information exchange directly connected to the Center for Disease Control’s BioSense program, which tracks public health problems in real time.

The electronic program tracks public health threats, outbreaks and epidemics with unidentifiable patient information provided by hospitals and health care providers in the network.

“As soon as a diagnosis is made, the information is sent to KHIN and shared with the CDC within moments after the diagnosis is made by a physician,” said Laura McCrary, KHIN executive director.

BioSense was launched in 2003 as part of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, according to the CDC.

More than 200 providers throughout the state share data through KHIN, and 12 hospitals are actively sharing data.

The Wichita Health Information Exchange, which includes Via Christi and Wesley, is under the umbrella of the statewide network.

“This is the opportunity to go out and link the information and to get information that we haven’t really had access to before or collected in manual process,” said Allen Laramore, project manager for the Wichita Health Information Exchange.

For example, Laramore said that during the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in 2009, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment asked hospitals to manually report cases in which flu was diagnosed or suspected. It was labor intensive, he said.

“Now, the information can be automatically pulled from the exchange,” Laramore said.

Before, providers would report the instances by phone or fax, which could mean that it would be several days before the information would get to the state, McCrary said, and that might mean a delay in recognizing a potential health threat.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment will also have access to the information to monitor potential outbreaks from the state level.

“One of the things we envision is making this an additional component to influenza surveillance and collecting information from outpatient clinics throughout the state and summarizing information,” said Charlie Hunt, the state epidemiologist.

“It allows us to monitor trends and respiratory or gastrointestinal illness or injuries or carbon monoxide poisoning. The uses are quite broad.”

The statewide information will not be directly available to the public, but will be summarized and published, Hunt said.

Hospitals that participate, Hunt said, could be eligible for additional federal funds that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare distribute to create incentives for informational technology programs.

In addition to supplying information to the BioSense program, KHIN is now gathering immunization information for the state level immunization registry called WebIZ, McCrary said.

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