New York Times Profiles ‘Real-Time’ Disease Reporting Systems
The New York Times yesterday profiled disease reporting systems that attempt to "collect and analyze disease data immediately," rather than the current standard of once per day or more, which can delay detection of a disease outbreak. Public health experts say that such systems are needed because of the threat of bioterrorism, which would "involve deliberate and widespread attempts to infect rather than the natural spread of contagion." One new disease reporting system is Real-Time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance, or RODS, under development at the Center for Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh. The program, funded primarily by the National Library of Medicine, receives data via private computer network about patients from 15 Western Pennsylvania emergency departments as soon as they are admitted. The information gathered includes a patient's chief complaint, age, gender, time and date of visit and ZIP code. The system compares new patient reports with older ones, searching for similarities. Another program, the Children's Hospital Project, tracks similar patient data from Children's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston; several other Boston-area hospitals will join the system in the next year. Doctors participating in the program, funded by HHS, "are particularly interested in exploring whether changes in patient behavior" -- such as increased reporting of certain symptoms -- "can be interpreted as early indicators of disease outbreaks."
Real-time and traditional disease surveillance systems "face many hurdles," the Times reports. "[M]ost notably," the programs require doctors' and hospitals' cooperation in offering patient information in a standardized form. In addition, medical workers say that the systems ideally should not require additional work from hospital employees. Finally, some question whether patient complaints, rather than doctors' diagnoses, are the most "accurate way of gauging potential threats" (Greenman, New York Times, 7/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.