Unique inventory management and volunteer system

The increasingly complex world of public health often demands highly technical solutions. When the Virginia Department of Health was considering options for tracking resources and people needed for public health response activities, planners decided to build a technically integrated inventory management system to handle everything from volunteers to Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) supplies. The development and maintenance of these systems are funded with CDC and ASPR federal grants.

Behind the scenes, it is known as the Inventory Management System (IMS). But end users typically need and use only one of two available applications, the InVAtrak Strategic National Stockpile system or the Virginia Volunteer Health System (VVHS). "These are truly one integrated system," said Diana Malik, software development manager for the Office of Information Management within the Virginia Department of Health. The IMS system was launched in 2007. "We started with the idea of 'What's the ideal system?'" Malik said. To help answer that question, planners had focus groups with a variety of end-users. "There was a vision that carried through from inventory management all the way to the volunteers' part."

InVAtrak
The InVAtrak Strategic National Stockpile system allows, for example, Point of Dispensing (POD) managers across the state to sign in, order antivirals and track shipments. The IMS also allows people to identify individuals receiving SNS medications, a particularly useful option in a recall.

The InVAtrak System allows for:

  • Linking with the parcel delivery service that handles Virginia's SNS deliveries, so orders can be tracked from the moment they are placed through their distribution on the ground.
  • Uploading files that accompany SNS orders to reduce data entry time and improve accuracy
  • Consolidating of inventory reports
  • Selecting the oldest SNS stock for distribution
  • Identifying where all SNS stock is located

Users with administrative rights can use InVAtrak to assist them in setting up PODs on the fly if needed. "Likewise, if people at a mass dispensing site are trying to push SNS materials to a number of patients, instead of manually entering each patient's data, the system can collect necessary information from driver's licenses by simply scanning the license through a reader," stated Malik.

In the recent H1N1 outbreak, InVAtrak was a great success. It was used in the RSS to track the supplies received by VDH from federal government and private vendors. InVAtrak was used to receive the inventory from various sources and to track the shipments to various organizations (PODs) as per the allocation from VDH top management. It was able to provide up to the minute status reports for the RSS and VDH top management. The reporting and tracking of the H1N1 supplies were done with great ease using InVAtrak.

The Volunteer Side: Virginia Volunteer Health System (VVHS)
Virginia has more than 6,400 registered volunteers and over 100 staff users in VVHS, which is Virginia's Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP). The VVHS is an information, alerting, and credentialing system for the management of medical and support volunteers who desire to support public health emergencies and daily public health activities in Virginia. The VVHS allows community members to register to become volunteers, local coordinators and emergency planners to manage their volunteers and the State volunteer coordinator to support regional and state volunteer deployment and reporting.

VVHS capabilities include:

  • Automated daily licensure and certification verification with the Virginia Department of Health Professions, Office of Emergency Medical Services, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Inspector General.
  • Alerting selected volunteers with customized messages that can be sent via email and phone. A recent added capability sends phone calls to volunteers who lack e-mail access and email messages to volunteers with valid email addresses.
  • Building a roster for volunteer activities and deployments an event such as training or staffing a shelter based on the e-mail response to alerts.
  • Tracking volunteer deployments. "Because of H1N1, we changed the system to make the deployment section more robust," said Jennifer Freeland, State Volunteer Coordinator. "Now for each event entered by the local coordinator it tracks the volunteer's time in and out, their supervisor, and which role they were assigned. This is essential for liability purposes and to understand how best to re-deploy them later."
  • Customizes and standardized reporting that meets federal and state grant requirements and local reporting needs.

Count Freeland as a fan of the VVHS. She has accessed VVHS from church to assist in an emergency shelter setup during the February snowstorms in Virginia as well as from Pennsylvania to cancel a planned H1N1 vaccine clinic. "I can't imagine trying to do what we've been doing without a web-based system with this much functionality," Freeland said. "Our system has advanced significantly since 2007 and we hope to continue making improvements that enhance our capability to manage volunteers effectively."

Working Better Together
There are several benefits to the combined development and management of InVAtrak Strategic National Stockpile system and Virginia Volunteer Health System (VVHS). Both systems were created with the vision of optimal ease of use. End users see more extensive or limited aspects of the IMS when they log in, tailored to their access level. Functionality has been simplified and users comment that "It is very intuitive." This has been critical in getting support, feedback and cooperation from the users.

"Perhaps the single biggest weakness of the IMS is that it remains vulnerable to human fallibility." Malik said. While data entry errors are a concern with any system, there are validations in the system to try to prevent errors such as validating appropriate SSN numbers i.e. has to be numeric, 9 numbers etc. The system is designed to be very flexible and has a minimum of mandatory data, so the users may decide to not enter or use only parts of the system, depending on the event. Being able to anticipate and correct data entry errors has resulted in more accurate reporting of both inventory and volunteers.

The IMS development team works closely with the system users to make necessary changes and develop new enhancements that further improve functionality. Thanks to the two full-time staff who manage the system, "Many modifications can be made simply and quickly so the system can be adapted to public health emergencies," said Dheeraj Katangur, project lead and technical lead with the VDH Office of Information Management. Often changes or developments are made for at the request of the users of one system can be modified or used to enhance the other system.

Creating a home-grown inventory and volunteer management system has certainly enhanced Virginia's ability to effectively, efficiently and rapidly manage resources and volunteers for public health emergency response.

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