Category Archives: Health Data and IT

Apr 17 2014
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Recommended Reading: ‘Pollution is Segregated, Too’

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After decades of studies demonstrating that poor people and minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to live near health hazards such as toxic waste sites, landfills and congested highways, a new study in the journal PLOS One took a more refined look at a particular aspect in the area of “environmental injustice”: exposure to nitrogen dioxide. The pollutant—which is produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources—is linked to higher risk of both asthma and heart attack.

Using data from the 2000 Census, researchers determined that minorities are on average exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide. The gap varies depending where in the country they live, with the upper Midwest and the Northeast seeing the greatest disparities, as well as major cities. All told the disparity accounts for an additional 7,000 deaths due to heart disease annually.

"The biggest finding is that we have this national picture of environmental injustice and how it varies by state and by city," said Julian Marshall, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of the study, according to The Washington Post. "The levels of disparity that we see here are large and likely have health implications."

There are a number of possibilities to account for the disparities. For example, according to The Post, many “urban highways...were originally routed through minority communities that were politically easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods” and “highways and landfills also depress nearby property values, meaning that people who can afford to live elsewhere do, while those who can't remain within their influence.”

Read the full story from The New York Times here.

>>Bonus Link: April is National Minority Health Awareness month. Read more of NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the annual event here.

Dec 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 30

More Than One Million People Now Enrolled for Health Insurance Coverage under the Affordable Care Act
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reported late last week that more than one million people have now enrolled for coverage under the ACA.

CMS also reported that December enrollment as of December 27 was seven times that of October and November. Open enrollment will continue through March, with rolling dates for first day of coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Flu Cases on the Rise
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported last week that rates of flu are on the rise in the United States, with the 2009 H1N1 virus the predominant strain. The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine is protective against H1N1.

According to CIDRAP, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the 2009 H1N1 virus has a greater impact on younger adults and older children than seasonal flu strains typically do.

The numbers of U.S. flu cases are usually highest January through March, which means that people who have not had flu shots yet still have time to protect themselves. Full immunity from the vaccine can take up to two weeks from the time of the injection. Use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu shot in your neighborhood. Read more on outbreaks.

New Orleans Health Commissioner to become Federal Health IT Administrator
New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo, MD, has been appointed the new National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), replacing Farzad Mostashari, who left the position earlier this year. In a memo to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the office of the National Coordinator, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that Dr. DeSalvo boosted the use of health IT as "a cornerstone of [New Orleans’s] primary care efforts and a key part of the city's policy development, public health initiatives and emergency preparedness." Dr. DeSalvo will begin her post in mid-January. Under Dr. DeSalvo's leadership, New Orleans also received the inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize.

Dec 11 2013
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Recommended Reading: ‘Retweet This’—Researchers See Rise in Use of Twitter to Share Scientific Journal Articles

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The top two tweeted peer-reviewed science articles between 2010 and 2012 were about the effect of radiation on humans, according to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Researchers reviewed 1.4 million articles to determine the most tweeted studies. Runners up in the top 15 of the most tweeted articles included studies on acne in teenagers and the link between physical activity and mortality rates. Nature, a highly regarded journal, received the most tweets: 13,430 Twitter mentions of 1,083 papers.

However, the researchers found that a retweet rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with a high rate of citations for an article in other studies, which is a standard measurement of significance for a scientific study. The most tweeted study—on genetic changes during radiation exposure—was tweeted 963 times but was cited in journals only nine times.

"The most popular scientific articles on Twitter stress health implications or have a humorous or surprising component. This suggests that articles having the broadest scientific impact do not have the widest distribution," said Stefanie Haustein, of the University of Montreal School of Library and Information Science, and a co-author of the study.

Still, the researchers say the increase in tweets that include a link or description of scientific studies is important even if the rates don’t correlate with journal citations. For one thing, the number of scientific researchers on Twitter is still low and “the fact that more and more articles are tweeted [at all] is good news because it helps scientific communication [and] regardless of whether non-scientists are sending this information, it proves that science is an aspect of general culture,” said Vincent Larivière, PHD, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Montreal, who holds the Canada Research Chair on the Transformation of Academic Communication.

Read the full study.

Oct 9 2013
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In a Government Shutdown, Who’s Tracking the Flu?

Add flu surveillance to the list of casualties of the current government shutdown.

Every flu season, states collect data on flu cases — including case reports and viral specimens — and send those to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for recording and tracking. That tracking is critical in order to:

  • provide information on how well-matched the seasonal flu vaccine is to the flu viruses found in the community;
  • identify severe outbreaks that require increased supplies of antiviral medicines for people who contract the flu; and
  • identify emerging strains that might require a new vaccine to be developed this season, which is what happened several years ago when CDC identified the H1N1 influenza virus toward the end of the flu season, and quickly ramped up for a new vaccine.

Flu season generally runs October through April, with the peak from about January to March. If the shutdown continues then, “as the flu season goes on, our knowledge of what’s happening will be impaired,” says William Schaffner, MD, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and the immediate past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, underscored his concern in a tweet on the first day of the government shutdown: “CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can't tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn't shut down. We are less safe.”

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Aug 22 2013
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Electronic Health Records and the NYC Macroscope: Q&A with Carolyn Greene

New York City is currently developing a pilot public health program known as NYC Macroscope — the first domestic effort to aggregate electronic health record (EHR) data into a surveillance tool to inform public health decisions. The population health surveillance system will compile electronic health records from primary care practices to help city health officials monitor—and respond to—the real-time prevalence of conditions that impact public health. The project is the result of a partnership between the New York City Health Department and the CUNY School of Public Health, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, and additional support from the de Beaumont Foundation, Robin Hood and the New York State Health Foundation.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Carolyn Greene, MD, Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Division of Epidemiology, about the plans and goals for the program.

file Carolyn Greene, MD

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about NYC Macroscope and how it will work.

Carolyn Greene: NYC Macroscope is going to be New York City’s first electronic health record surveillance system. We have a program here at the health department called Primary Care Information Project (PCIP), and it’s one of the nation’s largest distributed electronic health record networks. PCIP began in 2005.  It concentrated on primary care practices in high need areas where the Health Department really wanted to encourage providers to use electronic health records. The program has been extremely successful and they’ve completed many different activities to improve the quality of clinical care.

But in recent years, we’ve been asking the question: Can we use electronic health records for more than just patient care? Can we, in fact, use electronic health records to monitor the health of the population? Here at the Health Department, we have many different ways to conduct population health surveillance. We have surveys that we conduct by telephone, we have disease registries that we host, and we have our vital statistics registry on deaths and births. All these data are very important. But they are costly, resource-intensive and they often have a time lag from when the data are collected to when we can actually find the results from the data, so the advantages of an electronic health record surveillance system are many.

One advantage is that the architecture is already there. If you already have the electronic health records in place, you don’t have to find additional resources to collect the data because you’re already collecting the data through the EHR architecture. Other advantages are that potentially you can collect data in real time and potentially at low cost.

NPH: Do you see any potential disadvantages?

Greene: I think the first one is we always have to ask how representative the data will be in terms of representing the population as a whole. First of all, electronic health records only collect data on people who are in care and, because sicker patients go to the doctor more frequently, there’s a greater likelihood that we may be picking up more information on sicker patients. So we have questions about how representative are the data.

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Aug 15 2013
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LawAtlas and Public Health: Q&A with Scott Burris and Damika Barr

Public Health Law Research’s (PHLR) LawAtlas is a comprehensive content management tool that enables users to track and analyze key laws aimed at improving health and access to health care. From interactive law maps to policy surveillance reports to “reams” of digital data, it offers an expansive view of how health and the law are intersecting throughout the country. In fact, LawAtlas just today released two new data sets, one on Child Restraint Systems and one on Dental Hygienist Scope of Practice Laws.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Scott Burris, Director of PHLR’s National Program Office, and Damika Barr, Legal Analyst and LawAtlas Manager, about what LawAtlas means for the public health community—and their hopes for its future.

file Scott Burris

NewPublicHealth: What are you learning about the value of LawAtlas to the public health and law communities?

Scott Burris: I think there are two things that people really like about this. One is getting law as data. So, we take law and it’s a bunch of words that people in health often don’t want to cope with or don’t really appreciate. It’s not what they do. We turn it into data that they understand, that they can use, that fits right into their broader lifestyle, as it were. Meeting the needs of people doing epidemiology and science, that’s one part of it. The other part is just a great demand to see law laid out in this geographical way so that everyone can see what states have what laws and how any particular policy is progressing across the states.

file Damika Barr

Damika Barr: We’re finding that this is eye opening because you can finally see the dimensions of the law across jurisdictions over time with your own eyes, and it’s really easier for our researchers or the public health law communities and providers to see the dimensions as compared to looking at a long table with many columns. Researchers can start to ask more detailed questions or about more dimensions of the law than they would have if they were just limited to a table.

NPH: We’ve seen a couple of the ways that LawAtlas is being used already, including the study by Hosea Harvey that looked at youth sports concussion laws. What are some other innovative ways you’re seeing LawAtlas being used in research?

Burris: I think it’s not so much “innovative ways" as what important things can LawAtlas show us? LawAtlas in itself was an innovation in that it allows people to more efficiently code the characteristics of the law and more easily publicize it, but what we’ve learned in recent research is how you can answer important questions with it.

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Aug 8 2013
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Emergency Department as Community Microcosm, Data Hub: Q&A with Jeremy Brown

file Dr. Jeremy Brown, NIH Office of Emergency Care Research

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), established in 2012, will now be under the leadership of Jeremy Brown, MD. Brown was recently appointed as the first permanent director of OECR, which is housed in NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Before joining NIH, Brown was  an associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of the clinical research section in the Department of Emergency Medicine at The George Washington University. Additionally, he served as an attending physician in the emergency department of  the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center. According to the acting director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Judith H. Greenberg, PhD, “Brown brings an impressive mix of clinical expertise, research experience, management abilities and communication skills to this important new position.”

Part of Brown’s research includes how to introduce routine HIV screening—a public health intervention—in hospital emergency departments. Previous studies have found these screenings to be cost-effective and frequently welcomed by patients. This is just one of the many ways in which steps could be taken in the emergency room setting to help improve the data available to assist public health efforts across the country. By using emergency departments as sites for collecting data on the status of the public’s health, more targeted efforts for prevention can be implemented.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Brown on the evidence that shows support for the collaboration between emergency departments and efforts to improve public health, as well as his new role and what he sees for the future of emergency departments.

NewPublicHealth: How is the transition into this new position going so far and how are you pulling from previous experiences to help with new challenges in this position?

Jeremy Brown: This is the beginning of my fourth week here; it is a new program and a new project really for both me as its first permanent director and for the NIH as well. They’ve never had an office that has addressed this particular part of our nation’s health and I think it’s going to be a learning experience on both sides.

So far, I’ve been really struck by the extremely warm reception that I’ve had from people within institutes and centers with whom I’ve had meetings. Currently, my agenda is really to meet with as many people as possible within NIH whose work touches on emergency medicine and other time sensitive medical issues.

In terms of the latter, I started a brand new HIV screening project from scratch at GW, it hadn’t been done there previously and it really had only been done in a couple of places in the U.S. before. That required the marshaling of a lot of different aspects of both the hospital, the nursing staff, and emergency physicians to get that up and running.

NPH: What other public health initiatives do you think emergency departments can take the lead on to improve public health?

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Jul 22 2013
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Electronic Health Information Access for Patients Displaced by Disasters

As part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other wide-spread disaster, four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help relocated patients and their temporary health care providers access critical health information.

State health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia worked with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to create the new system. All of the state HIE programs participating in the initiative have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi. The initiative uses a tool called Direct, created through a collaboration that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published a guide to help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local HIE hub and regional health information organizations.

Jul 17 2013
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Using Social Media to Extend the Reach of Local Public Health Departments

CDC SocialMediaWorks

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s social media tool kit, CDCHealthCommWorks, was the focus of a standing room only session on the last day of annual meeting of the National Association of County and City Heath Officials (NACCHO). HealthCommWorks was developed through collaboration between the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Matthew Schnupp, MSPH, RN, a health education specialist at Oak Ridge, took the session attendees through SocialMediaWorks, one of the tools on the CDC site, to help optimize its use. The tool uses an algorithm to analyze which social media tools fit a particular campaign or public health issue based on time available to communicate messages, resources, population and goals.

“Social media plays a vital role in public health and is a strong tool for advocacy, communication, and education,” said Alisa Blum director of media and public relations at NACCHO. “Many local health departments use social media creatively to engage their communities and it has proven to be an important resource for public health preparedness and local health department response to disease outbreaks, emergencies, and other disasters.”

NACCHO also recently shared examples of successful public health social media campaigns:

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Jul 15 2013
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The State of U.S. Health: Q&A with Christopher Murray, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

 Christopher Murray, MD, DPHIL, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Christopher Murray, MD, DPHIL, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington

The final plenary session at this year’s NACCHO Annual included a talk by Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington on how data is used to measure health, evaluate interventions and find ways to maximize health system impact. Dr. Murray was a lead author on three pivotal studies published last week that used data to assess the state of health in the United States compared with 34 other countries and county level data on diet and exercise. One of the key findings is that Americans are living longer, but not necessarily better—half of healthy life years are now lost to disability instead of mortality; and dietary risks are the leading cause of U.S. disease burden.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Murray about the study findings, their impact and upcoming research that can add to the data public health needs to improve the health of all Americans.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the three studies that were published this week using the Institute’s research.  

Dr. Murray: The study in JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] is an analysis of a comprehensive look at the health of the United States in comparison to the 34 OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries. The study looks at both causes of death and premature mortality through over 290 different diseases and puts them all together in a comprehensive analysis of what the contributors are to lost healthy life. That study also looks at the contribution to patterns of health in the U.S., from major environmental, behavioral, and metabolic risk factors. In each of those categories, there are important findings:

  • The U.S. spends the most on healthcare but has pretty mediocre outcomes and ranks about 27th for life expectancy among its peer countries.
  • For many large, important causes of premature death, the U.S. does pretty poorly. And we also see a big shift towards more and more individuals having major disability—from mental disorders, substance abuse, and bone and joint disease.
  • On the risk factor front, the big surprise is that diet is the leading risk factor in the U.S. It is bigger than tobacco, which is second and then followed by obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and physical inactivity. Diet in this study is made up of 14 subcomponents, each analyzed separately and then put together.

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