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Public Health Informatics Takes Center Stage

January 7, 2014
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Public Health Informatics Virtual Event presentations include an HIE simulation in Texas and a tool that tracks disease reporting using social media

The three-day Public Health Informatics Virtual Event kicked off Tuesday, Jan. 7, with a handful of interesting presentations ranging from ICD-10’s impact on public health to syndromic surveillance and meaningful use.

In the first presentation, Lucas Tramontozzi, the former chief technology officer for the State of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, talked about efforts under way in Louisiana to open up data to fuel the creation of innovative applications. (Tramontozzi recently took a position as vice president of data strategy for SCI Solutions.)

The Blue Button effort was an important first step, he said. But there is more work to do to put patients in the center of their care by making it more relevant, fun, and thought provoking. Public health officials alone can’t improve health, he said. Patients have to take their health into their own hands and technology is central to that effort. Louisiana has launched what it calls the Cajun Code Fest, an annual event to bring innovative companies and students together with de-identified data from the state data warehouse. With help from a company called Privacy Analytics, the state de-identified data on 200,000 Medicaid patients and 30,000 providers for more than 200 coders to work with. The winners of the 2012 event came up with an application that uses social networking to help physicians and families create a support team for medication and care plan adherence. (CajunCodeFest 3.0 will be April 23-25, 2014, at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.)

Researchers from the University of Texas described their efforts to create a health information exchange simulation laboratory, including immunization reporting. It involves software from several HIE and EHR vendors.

Leanne Field, director of public health in the Medical Laboratory Sciences and Health IT programs at UT-Austin, said the HIE lab is helping students gain familiarity with workflow processes and the familiarity would help them redesign public health informatics practices. This lab affords opportunity for public health practice, with meaningful use Stage 2 published objectives such as transferring immunization records to a registry and sending cancer surveillance data through an HIE to a cancer registry. The lab also is working on applied research with vendor Jericho Systems on patient consent models for sensitive health data.

Catherine Ordun, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, described an application under development that seeks to use social media sources such as Twitter to augment traditional reporting on outbreaks of disease and food-borne illnesses. “This could augment the information toolbox you might be using to better allocate personnel and resources,” she said, “and forecast who else might be affected.”

The tool, Open Source Health Intelligence (OSHINT), tracks tweets about salmonella and E. coli chatter to see if the additional information could speed up or pinpoint severity or sources of outbreaks. OSHINT was able to capture local news headline references before CDC could gather and broadcast that information, she said, adding that more research needs to be done on how the tool could be put to the best use.

Sessions on Jan. 8 include “Assessing the Status & Prospects of State & Local Health Department Information Technology Infrastructure” and “Use of a Health Information Exchange Saves Time During Disease Investigations.” Check back tomorrow for updates.