Health Care

Health department used network in recent whooping cough case

The Wichita Health Information Exchange, which in conjunction with a statewide network shares patients’ information over a secure network, has started to save time for epidemiologists at the Sedgwick County Health Department and other providers, officials say.

The Sedgwick County Health Department began using the statewide network in November.

“Anecdotally, it’s saving a lot of time speeding up investigations and allowing us to intervene earlier to stop the spread of disease,” said Claudia Blackburn, Sedgwick County Health Department director.

The department will soon conduct a study comparing the time using the exchange during investigations and not using the exchange to quantify how much time the network saves, Blackburn said.

One recent example of how the network facilitated early intervention was when a county epidemiologist used the network to locate and contact nurses caring for an infant at a local hospital. The infant had tested positive for pertussis, or whooping cough, and the nurses were able to immediately request orders for antibiotics and stop the spread of the disease.

So far, more than 130,000 patient records from WHIE have been added to the statewide network, Kansas Health Information Network.

“Wichita is really a leader in terms of the part providers play in the health information exchange,” Blackburn said. “This part of the state has 80 percent of the records in the statewide exchange. Our providers are really forward thinking and moving rapidly into the world of health information exchange.”

Chris Steward, an epidemiologist with the health department, said staff members use the network to track more than 50 reportable diseases, including food-borne illness, pneumonia, influenza, chickenpox, whooping cough and blood stream infections.

Steward said they also can use the network to contact school nurses if students have tested positive for an illness. The school nurses can then check student immunization records to see if classmates have been immunized or are at risk.

The current network consists of hospital patients, but in the coming months, outpatient clinics will be added, said Allen Laramore, WHIE project manager.

“It’s a different kind of data set than typical from hospitals,” Laramore said. “It’s more routine care and day-to-day information that we’re going to see.”

Laramore said Wichita Family Medicine Specialists, with about 10 primary care doctors, is expected to join next month. He said the network hopes to add additional clinics later in the year.

The end goal is to have every provider in Wichita participate, Laramore said.

“It’s much more meaningful data when you have a more complete look of patient records,” he said.