Managed care group gets CDC grant to watch patient data for signs of attack

Oct 2, 2002 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today it is awarding $1.2 million to a group of managed care organizations for a pilot program to monitor millions of patient records for early signs of a terrorist attack.

The group, called the Harvard Consortium, plans to develop a computer operating system to connect information from various medical systems and health departments to provide early warning of diseases caused by a bioterrorist event. "If successful, the platform will serve as a model for a national syndromic surveillance system," the CDC said in a news release.

"This system will be able to locate pockets of illness that might represent an intentional attack of terrorism and will give us an early warning of such an attack," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson stated in the release. The system will connect "20 million ambulatory care patient records in all 50 states," the CDC said.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC), based in Massachusetts, will administer the grant, officials said. Other participating organizations are Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a large, private group practice; Harvard Medical School faculty at two hospitals; Minnesota-based Health Partners Research Foundation; Optum, a healthcare company that operates a national nurse telephone triage and health information service; Kaiser Permanente of Colorado; and the American Association of Health Plans, based in Washington, DC.

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said, "The demonstration program will include a rapid response capability to notify public health officials of unusual occurrences as soon as the information becomes available."

The CDC and some local health departments already have experimented with "syndromic surveillance," or monitoring of patient records, to look for clusters of illness cases that could signal a bioterrorist attack. For example, the New York City health department and the CDC collaborated to look for bioterrorism-related illnesses immediately after the Sep 11 attacks, as described recently in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (see link below).

See also:

CDC news release

CDC. Syndromic surveillance for bioterrorism following the attacks on the World Trade Center—New York City, 2001. MMWR 2002;51(special issue):13-15

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