The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has proposed that the federal government take the lead in organizing a national surveillance system to track trends in chronic health conditions, focusing primarily on cardiovascular and lung diseases. The aim is to provide public health authorities and policymakers at the federal, state and local levels with a fuller understanding of the continuum of disease prevention, progression, treatment and outcomes.
A number of surveillance systems already exist for these health conditions. But the IOM report points out that the growth in the use of electronic health records and consumer trends provides new opportunities for strengthening disease surveillance.
"Expanding the use of EHRs in surveillance will have challenges, including the relatively low numbers of hospitals and practices now using the technology," an IOM report brief notes. "But use of EHRs is expected to expand as healthcare reforms advance, necessitating their inclusion when planning for a national surveillance system."
The report brief also points out that consumers are electronically storing "a wealth of health data on their own, with or without initiation or direct support from health providers or organized care systems." It points to the "emergence of the Internet and new online social relationships," hinting at the use of social media in healthcare.
The report calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to organize the broadened surveillance effort.
The American Heart Association lauded the IOM recommendations. "With a coordinated system [of surveillance]," AHA President Gordon Tomaselli said in a statement, "we can determine which strategies have the greatest impact in reducing the financial and health burden of cardiovascular disease. These recommendations will enable us to thread the labyrinth of data on heart disease and stroke and close critical gaps in the treatment and prevention of America's leading health threats."