IBM, Public Health Agencies Work on Disease Reporting Standards

IBM Research is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as a nonprofit consortium to standardize electronic reporting and exchange of public health data.

IBM Research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Public Health Data Standards Consortium (PHDSC) are working on a template to standardize the exchange of data on illnesses, so public health officials will be able to respond more effectively to outbreaks such as whooping cough, hepatitis, flu and West Nile virus.

Announced on Aug. 16, the technology will enable public health officials to move beyond phone calls as well as faxes, mailed paper forms or electronic fill-in-the-blank forms as they satisfy requirements to report cases of infectious diseases.

IBM researchers will work with public health officials to develop a clinical document architecture template compatible with electronic health record (EHR) platforms to enable records to be shared among local, county, state and federal officials.

"This collaboration is an opportunity to reduce disparities, improve control of infectious diseases, with the aim of building standardized electronic health care systems that is accountable for the health of our communities and our country," Dr. Nikolay Lipskiy, health IT standards and interoperability lead for the CDC, said in a statement.

"We are committed to bringing a common voice from the public health community to the national efforts of standardizing health information technology and population health data to improve individual and community health," Dr. Anna Orlova, executive director of PHDSC, said in a statement.

The nonprofit standards organization PHDSC is a made of federal, state and local health agencies that collaborate on electronic standards for data exchange.

"This standards-based integration of public health and clinical systems for electronic data exchanges will help improve the effectiveness of public health programs, the quality of care and the health of the public," said Orlova.

"Templates can be built in a reusable and extendible way that reduce the complexity and the amount of work needed to build reports for new conditions," Sondra Renly, lead scientist, collaborative public health transformation for IBM Research, told eWEEK in an email.

Delaware, New York, State and San Diego County are participating in a pilot to create, validate and exchange reports of public health cases. Data originates from EHRs or health information exchanges, said IBM.

For the pilot, the New York State Department of Health worked with PHDSC to determine the data necessary to study whooping cough, or pertussis.

"What's necessary for pertussis is different from tuberculosis," Shannon Kelley, director of programs for the Office of Health Information Technology and Transformation in the New York State Department of Health, told eWEEK. "That's where the work comes in defining that."

A template on pertussis will allow for sharing of immunization history, a key piece of information in preventing infectious disease from spreading, IBM's Renly noted.

The data standards comply with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services program on meaningful use of EHRs, said Kelley.

"Once we have data standards and technology standards agreed upon at a national level, they can be incorporated into the meaningful-use incentive programs," she said. "EHR vendors want to support what public health needs, but they can't build a different solution in 50 different states."

Public health officials will use this data to reduce the amount of time needed to report new health cases.

EHR developers will be able to incorporate these standards into their systems, said Kelley. Health record applications can capture a doctor's visit, test result or medication.

The initiative will lead to the automation of public health reporting, which can help officials monitor them and prevent communicable diseases from spreading, according to IBM.

"We're really just looking toward being able to transition to a more electronic real-time automated system where we can not only get information faster but bidirectionally communicate," said Kelley.

Traditional reporting methods are outside the provider's EHR workflow and lead to underreporting and errors, according to Renly.

"Underreporting of infectious disease case reports is a persistent issue and needs to be addressed so that public health resources are appropriately allocated and result in effective interventions," said Renly.