University of Maryland unveils tool to gauge how public health taps EHRs in crises like Zika

The Public Health Information Technology Maturity Index can help officials understand how well they are using IT and data to respond to outbreaks and epidemics. 
By Jack McCarthy
07:36 AM
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Maryland public health EHRs

Source: Bgervais/Wikimedia

Researchers at the University of Maryland posted a new tool to help health officials and departments more effectively harness electronic health records, other IT and data during disease epidemics.

Dubbed the Public Health Information Technology Maturity Index, the offering can be used to assess information technology, benchmark against peers, set specific goals and to foster continuous improvement, according to Kenyon Crowley, deputy director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS) in the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business

To that end, the index can help officials know how well their technology performs at gathering relevant and urgent information, including the source of infection, where it happened and under what circumstances, who an infected patient has contacted to build as complete a picture of the incident as possible. 


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The PHIT Maturity Index includes four technology categories: community infrastructure, human capital and resources, scale and scope of IT use, and quality.

Zika, Ebola and SARS demonstrate the need for “seamless data integration across hospitals, primary care, and public health delivery locations,” said Ritu Agarwal, chair of information systems at the Smith School. “And of course all of this has to occur while simultaneously maintaining the privacy of pertinent patient data.”

Working with a team of UMD researchers, Agarwal spent two years analyzing an EHR implementation among Montgomery County, Maryland health systems and primary care practice.

 “We uncovered a host of barriers and obstacles to effective use of information, including the complexity and usability of the software, the inability of the software to support certain unique public health reporting needs, the learning curve for public health workers, and the lack of standards for effective data exchange,” Agarwal said. “All of this does not bode well, either for crisis response or for proactive crisis anticipation.” 

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