Athenahealth to monitor flu activity during government shutdown

During the government shutdown, health IT vendor athenahealth plans to monitor flu activity and issue updates accordingly.

Such activity normally is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which had to furlough nearly 9,000 workers during the budget fight in Washington. CDC normally issues a weekly flu report, and the media help announce disease outbreaks and launch public awareness campaigns. Without those reports, detection of flu trends could be delayed.

Thanks to its database built on cloud-based architecture, Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth has the ability to report data in real time. Its client physicians also are dispersed around the country with good statistical representation across practice types and sizes, Iyue Sung, director of core analytics, says in a blog post.

Flu outbreaks generally begin in late fall, but can start earlier. Athenahealth's analysis of vaccination rates by primary care physicians parallels those of previous years, Sung writes, though those who received their shots at retail clinics, schools or the workplace were not included. So far, it has seen no evidence of early flu outbreaks.

Sung says athenahealth's data tracking of the flu season last year was close to that issued by the CDC. His post doesn't say how often athenahealth plans to update its reports.

There's no end in sight for the shutdown and with some of the National Institutes of Health's biomedical and clinical research initiatives put on hold, a small but desperate group of children with hard-to-cure cancer as well as a Massachusetts man's last-chance treatment for cancer are among those whose treatment may be delayed, reports the Boston Globe.

However, the NIH has recalled a few furloughed workers to reopen its clinical trials registration website.

Meanwhile, the GOP is trying to cobble together piecemeal funding for popular agencies such as the Veterans Administration and NIH, and painting Democrats as working against the interests of those children with cancer, according to Reuters.

The VA has warned that the government shutdown will reverse its long-sought progress on reducing the backlog of disability claims.

And three insurance companies say they have enrolled a small number of customers through the glitchy federal online marketplace, so it is working, reports Kaiser Health News. The Obama administration continues to attribute problems to overwhelming volume, but some IT experts say software design might also be at fault. Computer security specialists, however, have ruled out a cyberattack known as a denial of service as the cause of the delays, according to the New York Times.

To learn more:
- read the athenahealth post
- check out the Boston Globe story
- here's the Reuters post
- read the Times article

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