HHS needs to plan strategic IT disaster readiness network

The Department of Health and Human Services has not developed or delivered as required by Congress a strategic plan to evaluate and start an electronic information network to be used if a catastrophic public health event or disaster occurs, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

In 2006, Congress included in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act a mandate for the HHS Secretary--in collaboration with state, local, and tribal public health officials--to deliver this plan to Congress.

HHS has developed and implemented other information technology supporting electronic information sharing for early detection of and response to public health emergencies. However, these systems were not developed as part of a comprehensive, coordinated strategic plan as required by Congress, GAO said.

Instead, the other systems were developed to support ongoing public health activities over the past decade--such as disease and outbreak surveillance. While several government offices have worked on developing public health reporting for their own purposes, GAO found that HHS "has not defined a comprehensive strategic plan that identifies goals, objectives, activities, and priorities."

HHS replied to the GAO that it neither agrees nor disagrees with its recommendation, but said that "a complete strategy" would be developed, according to the GAO. HHS said that it intends to release its first biennial plan in early 2011.

For more details:
- see the GAO report (11-99) on Public Health Information Technology