Utah rolls out first U.S. open-source disease tracker

By John Moore
03:37 PM
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Public health agencies in Utah have deployed what the state calls the first open-source, Web-based infectious disease tracking and management system in the U.S.

The rollout of the open-sourced CSI TriSano disease tracker began with two local health departments in January and has since expanded to a total of 12 local agencies as well as the Utah Department of Health.

The state originally planned to acquire a commercial disease-tracking system. But the systems under consideration cost as much as $2 million before customization, according to David Jackson, product manager with the Utah Department of Health.

Instead, the state pursued an open-source development project, partnering with the Collaborative Software Initiative, a Portland-based software company.

CSI TriSano was built to replace a number of siloed systems in use at state and local health departments, noted Jackson.

At the state level, those systems included the National Electronic Telecommunications System for Surveillance, the Sexually Transmitted Disease Management Information System and the Tuberculosis Information Management System.

The lack of integration among systems " no common database existed " slowed the process of identifying and responding to disease outbreaks.

"We were having ... delays in detecting anomalies and aberrations regarding infectious diseases," Jackson said.

Hundreds of people became ill in Utah's Wasatch Front region during a 2007 cryptosporidiosis outbreak before the disease was detected, according to the state. Cryptosporidiosis is a parasitic disease often transmitted in water.

Jackson said having state and local health departments share a common system and database lets authorities pick up on disease trends faster. This puts health departments in a better position to halt the spread of disease and prevent related hospitalizations and deaths.

Jackson said he views open source's ability to save upfront information technology costs as a plus for budget-constrained public health agencies.

"I assume most departments around the country are dealing with the same problem we are in that we are seeing a reduction in funding from both the state and federal governments," he said.

CSI TriSano also stands out for its configurable-form building tool, Jackson said. The tool lets certain users such as epidemiologists create disease-specific reporting forms.

Jackson said other states are investigating the potential use of the open-source systems.