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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.

Use Of E-Health Technologies Growing Internationally

Posted on May 8, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While much of the discussion in Twitter forums and the like focuses on U.S.-based e-health use, here and there stories crop up of intriguing ways e-health technologies can help transform healthcare in developing nations.  This week, we got a more comprehensive look at the global picture.

The World Health Organization has just issued a report outlining the rapid pace at which mobile health use is expanding in low- and medium-income countries around the world.  In many of these nations, mobile health programs are emerging, in part because public use of computers and mobile phones is increasing, the WHO notes.

The WHO report focuses on privately-funded programs, as reliable government data is difficult to obtain. The private data WHO uses comes from the Center for Health Market Innovations, which has been collecting data on public health programs in developing nations since 2007.

By U.S. standards, mhealth programs in developing countries are still in their infancy. Only 176 of the 657 the public health programs WHO looked at in  Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and VietNam were using communications tech to improve healthcare.

Among the main technologies providers used were telehealth-related, given that in many cases patients were a long distance away from any form of direct care.  For example, “video chat” programs and phone hotlines offering access to doctors are emerging quickly.   Key conditions addressed by telehealth programs are emergency care, tuberculosis, mental health, malaria, general primary care, maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS.

While these programs show promise, there’s one roadblock which isn’t likely to go away quickly — money.  Apparently, about half of the mhealth activity tracked by the report is funded by private sources, which limits their growth. Also, text-driven programs which have worked well in the U.S. and other industrialized nations aren’t nearly as effective, as many residents of these countries are illiterate.