Kathleen Gallagher, an epidemiologist at the CDC, says GE is one of five sources the agency has employed to enhance the data surveillance systems it currently has in place. The others are Cerner Corp., which has an electronic product for laboratory tests; for-profit hospital chain HCA, which provides both inpatient and outpatient data; SDI Health, a healthcare analytics company; and the Distribute project, a network of more than 40 state and local health jurisdictions that conduct surveillance on flu-like illness in emergency departments.
Gallagher says the greatest challenge is trying to “fine-tune” the answers to certain questions because the data are still so new to the people who are using it.
“The GE data wasn't originally intended to get information on influenza epidemiology,” Gallagher says. “It was intended as an EMR. We've been working through all of those issues early on so we can feel that we have the data from the EMR that will best answer the question we want it to answer.”
Another federal agency to employ a tracking system related to the flu is the Food and Drug Administration, which chose Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions to track the treatment of H1N1 and other flu viruses. Wolters Kluwer provides information and analytics to the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical-device industries. While the company would not provide detailed information on its work for the FDA, it explained its work in general terms.
“We've got a number of proprietary data assets that provide us with insights into retail pharmacy claims, and we take claims assets and combine them in a way that allows us to look at different types of therapies,” says Peter Demogenes, senior director of product management for Wolters Kluwer in Phoenix.
In the case of the flu, the company has conducted a number of studies to combine information, such as how frequently patients take medication and if they continue using that medication. Based on that information, Demogenes says, the company's customers gain insight into whether patients are using the medication properly. He acknowledged the concern of some who think prescription claim information should not be shared with anybody, but says he finds it can be useful, such as in assisting the U.S. government during the pandemic.
“As a consumer and a father of two kids and a husband,” Demogenes says, “I get to see the benefits of what this information can do.”