As public-health experts continue to emphasize the unpredictability of the H1N1 flu virus, federal agencies and healthcare companies alike are developing a host of surveillance systems to better understand the deadly strain and its effect on the American public—as well as open new business lines.
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the HHS agency that has guided the nation through this year's global flu pandemic—to large, publicly traded companies such as General Electric Co. and Microsoft Corp., to smaller healthcare information technology providers, there has been a surge in efforts either to enhance existing flu-tracking systems for public-health experts or create new ones for consumers.
In October, GE Healthcare announced that the CDC had selected the company to provide extensive surveillance data for both H1N1 and seasonal flu activity throughout the U.S. According to the announcement, GE Healthcare reports information gathered from its nationwide electronic database of nearly 14 million patient records to help the Atlanta-based agency track the spread of the virus in near real time.
For this, participating physicians automatically contribute de-identified data to the company's Medical Quality Improvement Consortium—a repository of anonymous clinical data and best practices—through GE's Centricity EMR when they document information collected during patient visits.