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Using Data to Protect Public Health

Originally published November 16, 2005

It starts with one patient's visit to a hospital emergency department, reporting symptoms of nausea, headache and vomiting. Within hours, more patients with similar indications arrive at other hospitals in the city, state or beyond. Could it be anthrax? SARS? Smallpox? E.coli?

Until recently, health officials didn't have the ability to detect a health crisis for days or even weeks. But now, the state of North Carolina -intent on protecting its 8.5 million citizens from potential biological attacks, infection or disease outbreaks-is using the North Carolina Hospital Emergency Surveillance System, or NCHESS. It is the nation's first statewide system to electronically collect, report, monitor and investigate pre-diagnosis clinical patient data on a 24x7 basis.

NCHESS was created in partnership with the North Carolina Hospital Association (NCHA) and North Carolina Division of Public Health (NCDPH). Two Chicago-area companies, Solucient, and Knightsbridge Solutions, collaborated to build the technological foundation of NCHESS, which acts as the system's digital engine, powering the collection and reporting of select emergency department data in near real-time, every 12 hours, for the first time.

A third technology partner, MercuryMD, developed the technology to electronically monitor available data for suspicious patterns and deliver real-time medical record access, which, among other things, allows physicians to securely pull up and review medical information.

"To improve North Carolina's preparedness for acts of bioterrorism or other health epidemics, the state needed a central clearinghouse that made it easy for hospitals to share data electronically with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state's Division of Public Health," said Matthew Bates, Senior Vice President of products and technology at Solucient. "Within six months, NCHESS was built using existing infrastructure to speed delivery of the solution, ensure hospital ease of use, and minimize expense."

Given their focus on helping people in life-or-death situations, emergency departments historically have lacked the time, people and technology to report even basic patient data to the state. Now, all licensed 24-hour emergency departments within North Carolina –112 hospitals—are required by state law to use the system, which meets current privacy regulations and international data standards. The system requires no additional staff and minimal training.

This BeyeNETWORK news item contains information from a recent press release by the company mentioned.