Fighting the flu - and making the case for health information technology

Fighting the flu - and making the case for health information technology

By Jill Gardner on January 17th, 2013

We’ve been inundated in recent days with media reports about the high number of influenza cases nationwide. We’re told we’re in the midst of the worst flu outbreak in more than a decade, and that hospitals are overflowing with victims. The nurse at the local urgent care center where I took my kids for vaccinations told me she’d provided 123 shots in three days; she was more than ready for the 5 o’clock whistle to sound.

What’s fascinating about this whole phenomenon—besides interesting clinical details—is the sheer amount of health information available and what we’re doing with it. How do we know this year’s flu outbreak is the worst in 10 years? Because we have health data that says so. Data that’s been carefully collected, aggregated and mined by hospitals, practices, government agencies and patients for useful information—in some cases via the very platforms and tools our clients create.

As consumers, we have lots of information input and access opportunities, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Flu Near You—even an interactive flu tracker on the Tamiflu® website. Proactive healthcare organizations are linking the latest statistics to preventive tips and education in an effort to promote wellness.

In many ways, this year’s flu season provides a perfect case study for need, benefit and value of the kinds of information technology our clients offer. It’s an everyday reminder that health information exchange, data analytics and population health management are not abstract concepts. They’re already becoming part of our daily lives.

Granted, what we’re seeing now only represents the tip of the iceberg. Healthcare is still far more reactive than proactive. Many of us (yes, my hand is raised) only flock to get our flu shots after hearing about all of the cases being diagnosed across the country. 

Maybe, though, in the not-too-distant future, advanced data analytics will help our providers pinpoint when the flu is likely to flare in our neighborhoods. Our doctors will send proactive vaccination reminders to our cell phones, timed to arrive just as we drive by the local pharmacy. Not only will we keep ourselves healthy, we we’ll help keep our communities healthy. Perhaps, one day, cases of the flu will be as rare as cases of smallpox.

That’s the promise offered by much of the health information technology we talk and write about every day. It’s pretty heady stuff.