The Centers for Disease Control has reported that influenza activity is high across most of the United States. The Indiana Network for Patient Care's ability to track data from physician offices and medical facilities across Indiana provides public health officials in the Hoosier state with early warning of outbreaks of influenza and other communicable diseases in Indiana. It will also let them know about weather-related health conditions or food-borne illnesses, enabling immediate actions including the alerting of appropriate medical personnel and policymakers.
The Indiana Network for Patient Care is among the highest volume health information exchanges in the United States. Created by the Regenstrief Institute, an international leader in electronic medical records and health information exchange development and operations, the network handles, on an average day, half a million secure transactions of clinically important data -- including medical histories, laboratory test results, medication records, treatment reports -- in a standardized, electronic format.
"Employing the unique capabilities of the INPC to securely exchange health information when and where needed, we are able to identify many types of outbreaks much more rapidly than we could before," said Regenstrief Institute investigator Shaun Grannis, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "It's crucial to detect events quickly so that we can respond early enough to intervene and prevent greater disease spread. We are able to assess the whole population using the INPC to feed that information back to clinicians so they can customize the care of individual patients."
Regenstrief Institute investigators have also developed a system that helps public health officials generate alert messages that can be delivered in a rapid and targeted manner in contrast to the majority of states, which still use ad-hoc paper-based system rather than the electronic exchange of information.
In 2012, the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine issued a report that explores the potential for the integration of primary care and public health, such as the two-way flow of information that takes place in Indiana today, to improve the health of individuals, communities and entire populations.
According to the Institute of Medicine report, primary health care providers and public health professionals in most other states operate in separate spheres -- one focusing on individual patients and the other on clusters or groups. This separation, the report says, impedes success in meeting the shared goal of ensuring health. Integration of the two fields will require national leadership as well as substantial adaptation at the local level, the committee noted in its report.
"By building on existing proven electronic communications technology used to support clinical care, we are minimizing development costs and are able to rapidly implement technology that delivers real-world value to public health," said Dr. Grannis, who is director of the Indiana Center of Excellence in Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, one of only four such centers in the nation. The center, established with CDC funding, builds upon the Indiana Network for Patient Care's ability to securely exchange health information when and where needed.
"With input from CDC and the Indiana State Department of Health, plus our extensive work in informatics and biosurveillance, we are leveraging Regenstrief's strengths in truly novel ways to improve the health of our state and eventually the nation," Dr. Grannis said. "With the growing number of public health problems and fewer resources to deal with them, the economies of scale become critical."