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Fighting outbreaks with electronic medical records

Electronic medical records now play a major role in investigating infectious disease outbreaks and other threats to public health.

“By combing through the data now received almost continuously from hospitals and other medical facilities, some health departments are spotting and combating outbreaks with unprecedented speed, reports The New York Times [1], June 18.

An estimated one-third of the 5,00o acute care hospitals in the United States now use electronic medical records, and 40% of primary care physicians have gone electronic, according to the national coordinator for health information technology.

Earlier this year, health officials in Michigan identified an increase in E. coli cases in electronic records and were able to link the infection to clover sprouts in food at a sandwich chain within a week. Electronic records also played a key role in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, allowing hospitals and public health officials to track the rise and fall of reported cases in nearly real-time. The use of electronic records has also been linked to improved patient care and reduced spending, according to the report.