Jeff Rowe, Editor, Future Care

Jeff Rowe is the editor of Future Care and a veteran healthcare journalist and blogger who has reported extensively on initiatives to improve the healthcare system at the local, regional and national level.

Public health official confront interoperability issues while trying to fight Zika

August 18, 2016 AT 8:48 PM

Public health departments around the country are scrambling to respond to the Zika outbreak, but experts say they’re having a hard time effectively using and sharing the data they need to figure out and fight the fast-moving disease.

In a recent article at Health Data Management, Kenyon Crowley, deputy director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS) at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, notes that while “seamless information sharing between public health officials and physicians on the front lines is critical to enable actionable insights necessary for success . . . public health departments nationwide typically are challenged by HIT barriers that include the complexity and usability of the software, the inability of software to support certain unique public health reporting needs, as well as the lack of standards for effective data exchange.”

Specifically, Crowley says, “One of the big problems right now in being able to combat Zika is getting data from the community and being able to share that data rapidly with partners in order to determine where to invest resources and support. Public health departments that haven’t done a good job of implementing electronic health records and surveillance systems in ways to exchange data across the different stakeholders are going to have a much harder time combatting Zika than those that can quickly identify hotspots of trouble through data from the field and provide triage.”

To help these departments overcome these obstacles, Crowley and a team of researchers at the University of Maryland, have developed a new tool—called the Public Health Information Technology (PHIT) Maturity Index—to better assess their IT capabilities and to counter shortcomings.

“A public health department has a range of responsibilities in the communities they serve,” says Crowley. “There are 10 essential services of public health. Each of these activities has a number of data and information needs associated with it and IT to be used to support the more effective and efficient accomplishment of those services.”