Magazine article Security Management

Reporting of Potential Health Problems Examined

Magazine article Security Management

Reporting of Potential Health Problems Examined

Article excerpt

ARE THE SYSTEMS that public health agencies have in place to receive and handle reports of suspicious diseases adequate? In an effort to answer that question, the RAND Corporation polled 19 of the 2,800 public health agencies around the United States. The study found inconsistencies in reporting methods that showed a need for national standards. The study also found that staff training needed to be enhanced.

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Hospitals, labs, and clinicians are supposed to report any suspicious symptoms that could have an impact on the larger community to public health agencies. Adequate response to these reports can often mean the difference between isolated cases and an outbreak. Health agencies also use these reports to see trends in the community. In the event of a serious outbreak, the reports can help officials identify the range of exposure and the genesis of the disease.

RAND found that health departments have different reporting systems in place, says Dr. David Dausey, lead author of the report. For example, many of the agencies encountered had a 24-hour on-call epidemiologist, but the methods for contacting the expert varied from cell phones to pagers to voicemails.

None of these methods are foolproof and any of them can result in lost calls and unreported cases of disease. But it is not clear yet what method would be best, says Dausey. Standardizing the mechanisms for reporting would greatly benefit the agencies, he says.

"We need to really center in on a set of metrics and check those over time," says Patrick Libbey, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Meanwhile, says Libbey, some public health agencies have made drastic improvements in recent years, including better communications with other emergency management agencies.

For example, Arlington County, Virginia, uses an electronic surveillance reporting system that groups disease conditions into categories and allows public health agency officials in multiple jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region to compare reports about symptoms.

The county has a communicable disease bureau that is staffed by nurses who are specially trained in infectious diseases and biological and chemical agents. After hours, calls are directed to a 24-hour operator in the poison control center who is tasked with contacting the on-call communicable disease nurse, using either a land line, pager, or cell phone. …

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