Online exchange helps docs find flu vaccines

This flu season's heavy toll has caused some Minnesota clinics to exhaust their vaccine supplies, but a recently launched online exchange could be the answer for matching those clinics that need vaccines to those that have some to spare.

"It's sort of like a dating site for [healthcare] providers," Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology at Minnesota's Health Department, told the Star-Tribune of the exchange, which launched last month.

The site took off quickly, with 20 clinics already offering supplies to seeking clinics. By the end of last month, the flu outbreak was responsible for 67 deaths and more than 1,800 hospitalizations in the state, according to the Star-Tribune.

This is the first time the state's Health Department has used an online tool to direct distribution of flu vaccine supplies, allowing clinics to coordinate among themselves how the vaccine will be exchanged. The publicly viewable site "allows healthcare providers to shift vaccine supplies where they're most needed, whether they happen to be buyers or sellers," Ehresmann said. It acts as a Web bulletin board, with representatives logging in to post what they need, share information and reply.

"It seems like a good idea ... to meet unmet needs," Steven Kastendiec of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, which was offering 320 extra syringes of vaccine, told the Star-Tribune.

This flu season, online services have helped payers, like Aetna, with preparedness and gaging the outbreak. Aetna, to prepare itself financially, has been using Google Flu Trends to track flu infection, which provides information faster than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To learn more:
- read the Star-Tribune article
- check out this update from the Minnesota Department of Health
- visit the online exchange site

Related Articles:
CDC's influenza app should be more reliable
Google helps Aetna track, prepare for flu epidemic
Will flu season increase insurance claims, costs?

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