CDC, DHS years away from bioterror, public health IT integration

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Homeland Security Department are pursuing related public health IT initiatives to create a national health IT strategy and federal architecture, but there is little integration between the agencies' efforts.

CDC, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, needs to develop and adopt consistent standards to encourage interoperability for data sharing and coordinate activities with states and local agencies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released today. Data shared for public health should be able to be exchanged across the health care industry as part of HHS' initiative to develop health care interoperability standards.

DHS should align its public health IT initiatives with those at HHS, including adoption of data and communications standards, said David Powner, director, GAO IT management issues.

The agencies have made some progress in public health IT initiatives, including one broad initiative at CDC ' the Public Health Information Network, designed to provide the nation with integrated public health information systems to counter national civilian public health threats.

DHS is developing two major initiatives, primarily focused on biosurveillance, which refers to the automated monitoring of information sources of potential value in detecting an emerging epidemic, whether naturally occurring or the result of bioterrorism.

CDC's public health network is at various stages of implementation. 'As a whole, however, it remains years away from fully achieving its planned improvement to the public health infrastructure. DHS' initiatives are still in such early stages that it is uncertain how they will improve public health preparedness,' Powner said in the report.

CDC has fully implemented two communications systems as part of its public health network: the Health Alerting application, which e-mails notification to state and local public health officials about disease outbreaks; and Epi-X, a secure, Web-based communications system through which state and local officials share information on public health emergencies.

The National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, which is designed to integrate several current CDC surveillance systems and capture and analyze data, and BioSense, an early event detection system, are only partially implemented.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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