Kaiser Permanente has launched a computerized surveillance system designed to alert public health officials to possible disease outbreaks.
"It will be an extremely efficient way to monitor bioterrorism," Eric Koscove, chief of the emergency medicine department at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara, tells the Contra Costa Times.
The Internet-based system, which was developed at Sandia National Laboratories, uses patient ZIP codes and symptoms to track infectious diseases.
The health plan will test the system at two San Mateo, Calif., hospital emergency rooms.
As with much else in health care, physicians play a crucial role. Under the Sandia system, they are expected to note the symptoms of patients showing one of six syndromes associated with infectious disease. "The data are immediately transmitted to the public health departments," the Contra Costa Times reports. "There, officials can integrate it with data on diseases known to be circulating in the community. Together, the information allows the health department to more quickly detect trends and alert physicians about possible disease outbreaks."
Scott Morrow, public health officer for San Mateo county, tells the newspaper that "It gives us a presence in the ER department. That is extremely valuable."
Morrow played down the Sandia system's role in the fight against bioterrorism, saying that its effectiveness might depend on the size and scope of an attack. He notes that doctors who suspect bioterrorism should not hesitate to phone health departments.
Morrow adds that the system might prove very valuable in monitoring natural infectious disease outbreaks.
Alan P. Zelicoff, MD, senior scientist at Sandia, agrees, but counters that the phone may not be the best weapon against any type of outbreak.