Pan-Canadian boost for pandemic preparedness

If an outbreak like SARS struck again, a new information system may help protect the Canadian public in a faster, more coordinated manner.

The system — dubbed the pan-Canadian Public Health Surveillance System — is being developed by the B.C. Government in collaboration with Canada Health Infoway and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

IBM Canada will be the prime contractor for the delivery of the system and will provide ongoing support in a five year agreement worth $24.7 million.

As for how the system will work, Tim Beasley of Canada Health Infoway said the typical flow of information would be public health becoming aware of a specific case of a patient found to have a communicable disease.

“Once that information is captured in the system it would be accessible to all those who need to know about it,” said Beasley, Infoway’s program director for public health surveillance. “The system will provide rapid means to link existing cases together and also supports capturing the information related to other people that patient has been in contact with.”

The system supports capture and display so that epidemiologists and medical officers can quickly identify what cases have in common and determine when they’re linked to a single outbreak, according to Beasley.

“When they make that determination the system has epic management capabilities that let them deal with that outbreak as a coherent entity,” he said. “This allows them to then take action and manage it more coherently than if they had to work at the individual case level.”

Increased speed and accuracy in detecting outbreaks is an anticipated key benefit of the system, according to Kelly Moran of the B.C. Ministry of Health.

“It’s also expected that the improved control of communicable disease outbreaks will result in fewer deaths across the country,” said Moran, the director of the health surveillance project.

B.C. was asked to take the lead in this project as the province does have a significant amount of knowledge in public health, and were the originators of iPHIS (Integrated Public Health Information System), he said.

Infoway received $100 million in March 2004 from the federal government, in addition to money Infoway already had, to plan and co-ordinate the development of the system, said Beasley.

“We’re partly a major funder, and we’re also a convener to get the parties together and to achieve consensus on direction and requirements,” he said.

Todd Kalyniuk a partner in IBM Canada’s surveillance health care consulting practice said they’ve had experience doing similar large scale development and integration for EHR’s.

“We’ve performed analogous kinds of projects with other Western Canadian public sector clients,” said Kalyniuk. “Not only is this initiative exciting from a business and technology point of view but we’re also excited about doing something that is going to benefit the public.”

The system will be available for jurisdictions to implement in 2007, said Kalyniuk.

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