Electronic health records have the potential to generate entirely new data for monitoring the health of the population and to "transform" public health surveillance, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report, which outlines the CDC's vision for public health surveillance in the 21st Century, notes that public health surveillance evolved to cover much more than infectious diseases, as have surveillance methods, spurred by advances in technology.
"With the impending mass adoption of electronic health records, procedures for conducting surveillance are taking another turn, and new opportunities for strengthening surveillance capacities are emerging," the report stated. "Electronic health records offer an opportunity to improve links between health-care providers and public health departments, making surveillance more effective and timely."
For instance, the CDC said that the clinical data from EHRs can be turned into surveillance data at the population level. The data can also be used to establish new disease registries yielding previously unavailable population-based morbidity and disease data, and to track how individuals move through the healthcare system.
The report noted that EHRs are still emerging and are not yet widely used, and that concerns about access and privacy still need to be resolved. It also acknowledged that its current surveillance system does not work well in today's world of information technology.
The report recommended that standards be developed to facilitate data exchange, and predicted that the future system will consolidate information in health information exchanges in a national "electronic health grid" which could include providers, public health agencies and consumers.
The CDC has been heavily involved in the potential use of EHRs to improve care, such as exploring the feasibility of capturing work-related information in EHR systems and relying on EHRs to reduce surgical site infections.