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Public Health Efforts in New York State Bolstered by HIE

July 21, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Erie, N.Y.-based County Department of Health (ECDOH) has noticed significant improvements in tracking overall public health efforts by leveraging HEALTHeLINK, Western New York’s health information exchange (HIE), for its epidemiology and disease surveillance.

The improvements specifically pertain to sexually transmitted diseases (STD) surveillance, treatment, and prevention, the organization announced, saying that through HEALTHeLINK, ECDOH has been able to more accurately and efficiently improve its STD case reporting and contact tracing system.

The percentage of reported chlamydia cases with unknown treatment in Erie County decreased from 46 percent in 2006 to 8 percent in 2012. In addition, the use of HEALTHeLINK results in more STD contacts brought into care to prevent the spread of disease throughout the community—marking a 27 percent increase since HEALTHeLINK use began. During this same timeframe, reported gonorrhea cases with unknown treatment decreased from 19 percent to 4 percent. In 2013 in Erie County, there were approximately 4,897 reported chlamydia and 1,060 gonorrhea cases.

“Having secure access to public health statistics and other data provides our public health practitioners with important and timely information to help them understand where we need to focus our attention in providing healthcare resources and education,” Gale Burstein, M.D., ECDOH commissioner, said in a statement. “Our ongoing prevention efforts related to STDs have been aided by our collaboration with HEALTHeLINK which has become a valuable tool in our efforts to provide the public with more efficient care.”

These efficiencies have led to a reduction in time that it takes for disease intervention specialists to identify treatment requests, cases, and contacts, officials said. ECDOH epidemiology staff and disease intervention specialists use HEALTHeLINK to access lab, radiology, medication and demographic data to determine if appropriate STD treatment is administered and to monitor demographic and contact information on STD cases and their partners.

ECDOH has been utilizing HEALTHeLINK since 2010, and in addition to STDs, is also investigating cases of hepatitis B, tuberculosis and rabies within Erie County.  In the future, ECDOH will use clinical data available through HEALTHeLINK to measure overall population health and target those disease areas that may need further education or access to treatment.

“Being able to access real-time information is translating into improvements for accurate and efficient STD identification, more timely treatment, and a reduction in the spread of the disease.  So while we talk about cost savings, which is important, you cannot calculate the cost savings of preventing the spread of diseases,” Daniel E. Porreca, HEALTHeLINK’s executive director, said . “Our collaboration with the Erie County Department of Health is just one example of how HEALTHeLINK is continuing to build a strong health information technology infrastructure and testing innovative approaches in order to provide better care and outcomes as well as cost savings.”

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