How mHealth can boost data collection on immunizations

Collecting information on immunizations is a challenge as people move, new vaccines are developed and administration becomes increasingly fragmented, but a group of researchers see mobile healthcare as a solution to that problem.

The use of a mobile-phone based immunization information systems (IIS) could allow patients, providers and public health officials to access vaccination data, say the researchers, who work at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Toronto. The report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The report's authors envision a three-phase implementation of such a program, which would include:

  1. "Unidirectional" flow of information: There would need to be a flow of immunization that goes from a mobile app to the IIS. The program could use data standards such as Health Level 7 and SNOMED CT to ensure the proper exchange of data and use across multiple systems.
  2. "Bidirectional" flow of data: There also will need to be a way for individuals to access immunization information from public health officials. For this to happen, authenticated data in the IIS should be able to flow into, and be downloaded, through the mobile device held by the patient. "A mobile portal could also be designed to enable validation of new information by immunization providers," the authors say.
  3. Extra features: Other information that could be included in the system could be the ability for patients to report on their experience post-immunization, as well as surveys to collect follow-up information. The app also could allow for the scanning of barcodes on vaccine vials to provide detailed information on certain products and their outcomes.

The researchers note that there are barriers to such a program, including issues regarding privacy and security of patient information, which would mean a need for data encryption, unique identifiers and informed consent. Engagement problems also could arise if patients do not have access to mobile devices, which could mean creating a Web-based portal available at kiosks or public computers.

Apps have been used before in Canada to help track vaccinations. One, called ImmunizeCanada, was initiated and funded by Canada's federal health organizations to help citizens across the country's 13 provinces keep track of immunizations and required vaccinations.

Electronic health records are another health IT tool used to track this information. A study from Kaiser Permanente used statistical software to match EHRs with home addresses and to detect clusters where parents have rejected vaccinations for their children at a higher rate.

To learn more:
- check out the study