We have a growing immunization problem in the United States.
Before we get into the severity of the problem, let’s put it in perspective. Just a one percent decrease in the number of children being immunized against illnesses like measles or whooping cough could mean literally hundreds of thousands of potential contagious illness cases that could have easily been prevented. It becomes a major public health issue.
And the fact is, it’s happening right now. Last year, there were over 27,000 cases of whooping cough in the United States, more than double the number reported in 2007. In fact, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, we’re seeing 85,000 cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. each year – and those are just the cases being reported.
So how do we get a handle on this problem? How do we better identify the households in which children are not getting recommended vaccinations? How do we make certain parents are properly informed about the vaccines their children should be receiving? For that matter, during flu season, how can physicians be assured that their patients are receiving protective flu shots?
The potential exists for a data network, not unlike Surescripts’ national interoperable network, to address this challenge.
A Surescripts survey of physicians found that a major contributing factor is the difficulty of maintaining complete medical records. Nearly 39 percent of doctors said they are frequently missing immunization records when they see patients.
Paper-based records can’t handle the problem. Paper doesn’t allow the rapid, unfettered movement of patient information between physicians, hospitals, clinics, nurses and other healthcare professionals who see patients and can advise on vaccination issues. Electronic data enables the presence of a complete medical record every time a patient interacts with the healthcare system. Therefore, when a child has not received a recommended vaccination, that can be flagged and protocols can be put in place to automatically alert physicians and parents accordingly.
At Surescripts, we’re already putting this theory into practice. This past March, we entered into an agreement with Walgreens. All of the nearly 8,000 Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies and the company’s 350 Take Care ClinicsTM, located in many of its stores, will use the Surescripts network to provide immunization reporting to primary care providers as well as state and local public health agencies.
This is just the beginning of a process that will one day allow every healthcare professional to not only know what care a patient has received but, just as importantly, what they have not.
The protection of public health depends on using every tool available to us to guard patients from preventable, communicable diseases. A comprehensive data network is one of these tools, and another one of the ways that health IT stands to improve public health in this country.