Vaccine data warehouse gives Ohio shot in the arm

KEEPING TRACK: An anthrax test strip used in Middlefield.

If there is ever a biological attack or fast-moving epidemic in the United States, Ohio will be prepared.

The state's Health Department purchased a new mobile warehouse management system that would be used to coordinate the distribution of vaccines and other critical medicines throughout the state in a matter of hours.

The new system automates records maintenance to help officials track and graphically represent information from the state's eight regions.

Vaccine stockpile

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, and anthrax attacks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for health departments to be ready to dispense vaccines from its Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

'Our primary purpose was to be prepared for the needs of the SNS,' said Kent Ware, project lead for application in the Ohio Strategic National Stockpile Initiative.

The department chose a system from Integrated Warehousing Solutions Inc. of Chicago. It awarded the contract in August 2004 and work began in November.

'There are many different inventory systems that are out there, but [the key was] being able to bring the whole picture together for us, to be standalone as well as interconnected,' Ware said.
The interconnected system lets administrators use handheld devices to track inventories, including the receiving and shipping of materials, during daily operations.

'But in an emergency, you may be standing up a warehousing system and receiving shipments from CDC without phone access or the Internet,' Ware said.

The new system is one of the first major wireless applications undertaken by the Health Department.

Workers use handheld readers in two segments of the distribution system'in the warehouse, where scanners can verify and validate each transaction, and by health professionals in the field, when medications are administered.

Being able to have the same functionality under emergency conditions is critical, Ware said.

When the CDC sends SNS supplies during an emergency to a regional center in Ohio, state employees and health professionals, such as immunologists, input patient and vaccine quantities and location data into the handhelds, said Carl Brewer, president of IWS.

From that information, the Health Department can determine exposure rates, symptoms, geographic distribution and other factors that guide what will be sent to temporary vaccination centers, for instance.

Field research

'We're doing a little bit of triage at that front end, capturing who had what symptoms, who got follow-up drugs,' Brewer said. 'Every bit of that is field-level tracked and captured to a server, then bounced up to the state systems.'

The system can represent the captured data graphically, which facilitates the tracking of emerging health problems arising from a crisis.

Just as important to the state, the new system is not restricted to emergency use. The department is implementing the system now to streamline its day-to-day warehouse management.

'Cost was a major issue for us,' Ware said. 'We did not want to create a system independently; we felt commercial software was the best approach for us to take because of the development time, the expertise in warehousing and logistics.'

Using the system on a day-to-day basis certainly helps the financial decision, but it offers another major advantage, Ware said'the health professionals will be proficient in the system's use long before there is a crisis.

'The trick is, you use the technology in today's manner, so if you ever have to deploy in an emergency, people are not being handed something they don't know how it works,' he said.

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