Grant Supports Development of Software to Judge Quality of Electronic Public Health Data

INDIANAPOLIS -- With the growing need for early identification of emerging threats including those of bioterrorism, pandemic flu, Ebola and foodborne illnesses, public health departments nationwide are increasingly relying upon data captured from electronic sources.

A $381,000, 2-year grant from the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health supports development by the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health of open source software tools to measure and monitor the quality of electronic data being transmitted to public health departments across the nation from health care systems, medical laboratories, physician offices and other sources.

"While automated syndromic surveillance is on the rise, most public health departments don't have the resources or the expertise to measure, as well as continually monitor, the quality of the growing amount of data they are receiving," the grant's principal investigator Brian Dixon, Ph.D. said. He is a Regenstrief Institute investigator and an assistant professor in the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.

"We will be developing standards-based software that will be available without charge to any public health agency in any state that wishes to assess incoming electronic data for a range of critical quality issues, including timeliness, completeness and accuracy."

Dr. Dixon and colleagues are modifying a software platform originally developed to analyze data on drug effectiveness. He anticipates that the value of the new software will grow as additional electronic information infrastructure for public health reporting is created and relied upon by state and local health departments to support early identification of emerging threats as well as to assess and monitor population health.

"Software tools of the type we are building are something state and big city public health departments are asking for, but are not available from commercial vendors," said Dr. Dixon. "With Regenstrief's decade-plus work in public health informatics, we have the expertise and experience to develop and test this much needed capability. Improving data quality will ultimately improve health."

The NLM award R21LM012219 commences this month.