New project seeks to improve Zika lab reporting and testing info exchange with healthcare providers
A joint venture between the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology looks to improve reporting and information sharing on suspected Zika virus cases.
The agencies have partnered on a project that aims to enable state public health laboratories to electronically transmit such information as lab test results to hospitals. In turn, hospitals would be able to more quickly provide labs with vital tracking information on Zika cases, including whether an infected person is pregnant. This would give public health officials better tools to monitor Zika's spread and its impact on specific populations.
The project is one of five entrepreneurial initiatives selected to receive a total of $375,000 through the HHS Secretary's Ventures Fund.
"As we begin the Reimagine HHS process, it is vital to recognize and nourish innovation within the Department," HHS Sec. Dr. Tom Price said in a written statement. "These Ventures teams typify this spirit at HHS."
The CDC/ONC project is slated to receive $100,000, which will be used to "augment existing technologies that facilitate electronic test order and results between providers and laboratories," according to an HHS spokesman, adding that the agencies have been working on the project since the outbreak was first reported in the U.S. January of last year. The project will be implemented in several phases over the next year.
Work will include making technical updates to a system currently hosted by the Association of Public Health Laboratories. That project focused on developing a centralized, communications network on a regional level where lab test orders and results for antimicrobial resistant pathogens could be exchanged. The ONC/CDC project will broaden APHL's system to a nationwide program that would be compatible with hospital electronic health records.
"Public health labs are constantly working to increase their technological capabilities, and many have invested in tools to support test order and result dissemination within their jurisdiction," said Michelle Meigs, senior laboratory informatics manager at APHL. "However, there is power in collaborating at a national level, from clinicians to public health, to deploy informatics solutions to support the full specimen testing lifecycle in the face of emerging threats."
The inability of public health labs to either electronically send lab results or receive orders to conduct tests means such information is exchanged with healthcare providers in written form or by telephone. As result, it typically takes three week from the time a specimen was received to report back results, according to the CDC, but that could be "longer during summer months or when arbovirus activity increases."
There have been 119 cases of Zika reported in the contiguous U.S. in 2017 as of May 17. Since 2016, more than 1,800 pregnant in the U.S. have tested positive for Zika. Of that number, 64 children have been born with some type of defect, while eight pregnancies have been lost.
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