Tracking Health Trends As They Happen In Allegheny County

Nov 11, 2019

Information is power, and Allegheny County has a new tool to track public health trends as they're happening.

The county health department is beta testing a program that pulls and aggregates data from residents’ electronic medical records, from both UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.

“It will help us to be able to look at our metrics and work with community partners in a more targeted fashion,” said Dr. LuAnn Brink, the health department’s chief epidemiologist.

Right now, health information for county residents, such as the rate of nicotine consumption or cancer diagnosis, is often two-to-three years old, at best. Gathering this information is costly and arduous.

“Normally when we get these types of data, it’s because we’ve paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for an organization to conduct a telephone survey with our constituents,” said Brink.

An electric health record contains a patient’s medical history, including immunizations, vital signs, laboratory and radiology reports, and notes on health conditions. Data is stripped of personally identifying information, so this program is compliant with federal privacy standards.

The county is already tracking hyper-tension, diabetes and obesity. Soon it will be following rates of influenza, Lyme disease and Hepatitis C. This initiative is being funded with a $500,000 grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Allegheny County will be one of the first areas in the U.S. to surveil public health trends by accessing electronic medical records. Only the state of Massachusetts, and a jurisdiction in Texas, have deployed similar systems.