Case Study: Keeping the Pulse on Public Health

State implements innovative disease surveillance system


Keeping the Pulse on Public HealthTo improve the disease reporting and tracking process, a state’s department of health (DOH) wanted to rethink reporting processes that would allow health care providers to issue their reports electronically and thereby eliminate paper. DOH officials decided to integrate several stand-alone, disparate data silos into one electronic disease surveillance and reporting system and to enable secure, Web-based reporting by healthcare providers; also, to provide tools to assist Public Health investigators to quickly identify, investigate and manage disease outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recently introduced the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS) — a blueprint to better integrate, modernize and enhance public health surveillance. The CDC also had embarked on the development of a computerized system based on NEDSS standards, known as the NEDSS Base System. The state DOH wanted to leverage the conceptual framework of the CDC’s system while building its own.

The Challenge

The DOH would have to reengineer its business processes to implement the CDC Base System and customize it to fit DOH needs. Although it saw many benefits to the NEDSS Base System, it didn’t see an advantage to health care providers. Primarily a backroom system, the NEDSS Base System required health care providers to report to the DOH on paper. It wanted to rethink the reporting process and add a component that would allow health care providers to report electronically.

How We Helped

Our team assisted DOH staff during the business process reengineering effort, helping facilitate the requirements-gathering as well as performing system design, development and implementation support. The joint team collaborated with the statewide health care community and public health investigators throughout the project to effectively plan for and manage the required process changes.


Today, DOH’s new disease surveillance system is used in all counties within the state. Healthcare providers make a single stop on the Internet to enter incidents of reportable diseases, providing the DOH data in near real time.

The new system also helps DOH track emerging diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. The solution was developed with a sophisticated application architecture that enables reporting of emergent diseases to occur in a matter of hours. Reports are electronically routed to public health investigators throughout the state, who can quickly launch investigations. The system also features a case management tool that allows public health officials to track the cases investigators are working on and their status.

The DOH recently received several awards for innovative use of technology from various organizations. But the true rewards lie in what the system has allowed it to do: better control and manage outbreaks of disease, whether a disease has existed for decades or just made its debut.