EMRs Have Potential Role to Play in Curbing Global Contagion

Posted on July 11, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I had some rare time to myself at home the other night and decided to finally watch the Netflix DVD that had literally been gathering dust on our entertainment center. (No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to watch a movie and return it in less than a week these days.) For better or worse, I popped in the star-studded, virus-filled Contagion – an ode to the absolute insanity that could befall modern society should a highly contagious and highly untreatable virus strike nearly every society on Earth.

Other than the autopsy scene in which Gwyneth Paltrow’s character – otherwise known as the “index patient” – gets what I’ll delicately call a “facial,” I was pretty fascinated by the inner workings, procedures, protocol and backstabbing of the CDC and WHO. They, of course, used technology to track the virus’ origin and its rapid spread, and I kept waiting to hear a doctor refer to accessing victims’ electronic medical records to track development of their illnesses. (Come to think of it, this movie would have made for great EMR product placement opportunities.)

Though EMRs were given short shrift, the movie made a good case for population health management, and the corresponding role technology can potentially play in tracking outbreaks. I wondered if such an outbreak were to actually ever occur, would EMRs, HIEs and other data exchange programs help providers isolate worst cases of conatgion quicker?

Coming across a headline like “Officials search for more clues in disease killing Cambodian children” makes me wonder if the CDC and WHO are using population health management tools in their investigations, and if data exchange is playing a part in developing countries like Cambodia. A quick Google search of Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, which seems to be ground zero for treatment of the outbreak, leads me to believe the hospitals likely don’t have the resources for sophisticated healthcare IT systems. A broader search for mention of EMRs in Cambodia yielded information from late last year on University Research Company’s Cambodia Better Health Systems Project participating in an Open Medical Record System Annual Implementer’s Meeting meeting in Rwanda, focused on enhancing EMR systems. So it seems that EMRs are definitely on the country’s radar to some extent.

Could EMRs in a developing country like Cambodia help to contain the spread of highly contagious diseases? Could they at least help spread message of the contagion amongst providers across affected regions, helping to transmit daily updates regarding spread, treatment, cause, etc.? These are all questions I’m sure global health agencies have already spent considerable time considering. I came across a very interesting report from the Rockefeller Foundation and its partners on this very subject. Highly recommended reading: “The Promise of Electronic Medical Records (PDF).”

Are you aware of more up-to-date implementations of EMRs in developing countries? Any third-world success stories we should know about? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.