SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – To help protect against the threat of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the state has begun deploying an electronic disease reporting system that dramatically improves the way public health surveillance is conducted.
“This high tech, Internet-based system moves us into the 21st century in disease reporting and takes on a central role in the state’s defense against terrorism and identifying unusual clusters of illness,” Blagojevich said. “Public health officials will be able to spot potential problems and respond quickly.”
Known as I-NEDSS, the Illinois National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, is being rolled out this month to local health departments in Chicago and suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Grundy, Lake, McHenry and Will counties. The system will then be introduced downstate, starting with the largest local health departments, and be in place in all 94 local health departments by mid-May.
The initial I-NEDSS application, which cost $1.5 million to develop, allows electronic reporting to the Illinois Department of Public Health by local health departments of gastrointestinal diseases, such as salmonella, shigella and E. coli. Communicable diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases will follow until all 77 state-mandated reportable diseases will be able to be reported electronically to the state. Fully implementing I-NEDSS to local health departments, hospitals and laboratories is expected to take 4 to 5 years and cost $10 million.
“We will be able to track outbreaks of ailments such as the flu, but we also can be alerted to possible biological attacks,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “In the past, it may have taken days to notice a grouping of cases, but in the near future, we will know immediately that a hospital emergency department is seeing patients with similar symptoms. This will allow the public health community to detect and respond to potential public health threats within hours, rather than days.”
Dr. Whitaker said that establishing a diagnosis quickly is crucial to the public health response to a biological attack, since identifying the organism will guide the use of vaccinations, medications and other interventions. The faster a biological agent can be identified, the more effective the medical community can be in preventing or treating possible victims of the attack, he said.
“Public health surveillance guides our decision making and practices and provides us with information crucial to monitoring the public’s health,” Dr. Whitaker said. “It helps identify problems and priorities, allows us to take action to prevent illness and gives us the data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of our actions.”
Through I-NEDDS, local health departments will enter disease information received from hospitals, laboratories and other disease reporters directly into a Web-based computer system linked to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In the past, disease reporting has relied on local agencies writing the information on paper case report forms and mailing them to the state, or calling with the data. This process led to reporting errors and duplications, and delays in the information reaching the state, and was an inefficient use of time and labor. As I-NEDDS is further refined, providers such as hospitals and doctors, will be able to enter disease information directly through the Internet, and reports from laboratories will be downloaded into the secured system.
The state will now serve as an electronic hub for disease information, accepting, routing and processing it on a real-time basis, while looking for trends or possible disease outbreaks. Information will be able to be shared immediately with local health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illnesses can be tracked by the patient’s ZIP code, street, county, symptoms and other factors. The system also allows adding new diseases and questions at any time so information can be gathered specific to an outbreak.
Funding for development and implementation of I-NEDDS comes from the state’s share of federal bioterrorism funds. During the development phase, a number of local health departments from throughout the state provided suggestions on how the system should be constructed.