Mixed Bag of Systems

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2008-03-11 Print this article Print

In the face of pushback from hospitals and physicians, the CDC has revamped its ambitious BioSense network, designed to provide early warning of a potential flu outbreak. Now the agency is offering grants to promote the sharing of data among state health departments, while building new systems to alert physicians in the event of a pandemic. 

Mixed Bag of Systems
Because BioSense is used only on a limited basis around the country, the CDC continues to rely on a mixed bag of different systems—some completed, some not—to uncover a major pandemic in the making. Chief among these is the Influenza Sentinel Provider Surveillance System, which depends on some 2,200 volunteer physicians to collect information from patients who exhibit flu-like symptoms. The CDC also uses the World Health Organization’s FluNet system, a database that epidemiologists and other researchers can query to learn about flu-related activity in other countries.

Laboratory data can provide yet another indicator of unusual flu activity. “We are looking to recognize cases early on by using laboratory data and to report that data automatically to public health authorities and the CDC at the same time,” the CDC’s Dr. Lenert says. The CDC depends on the Laboratory Response Network, which connects it with state health department laboratories and other laboratories that have special training to perform influenza research.

Pandemics are monitored using a system called the Health Alert Network. “We use this system to communicate to physicians and health departments about how to report cases, what to look for and other information about specific cases,” says Dr. Steve Redd, a CDC epidemiologist.

Another system, FluFinder, was begun in 2004 during a shortage of flu vaccine. The system allows health officials to locate vaccine supplies.

With all these systems—and others—in the works, the CDC must consolidate its information systems in order to provide more timely data to its own staff and to health care professionals in the field.

Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.