BI Software Keeps Eye on Disease

By Dennis Callaghan  |  Print this article Print


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Syndromic surveillance, a new breed of business intelligence technology, searches patient data to mobilize against disease and biological attack.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. medical community has been on high alert preparing for Anthrax and other biological attacks, as well as dealing with actual outbreaks of new diseases such as SARS and the West Nile virus.

To fight this two-front battle of threat and outbreak, the medical community is turning to syndromic surveillance, a new breed of business intelligence technology that searches for patterns in patient data. The goal is to recognize the signs and mobilize against a potential disease outbreak.

Early pioneers in this space are Sapphire Consulting, a systems integrator, and Emergency Medical Associates, a not-for-profit consortium of emergency-room physicians that serves 16 community hospitals in New Jersey and New York. Both organizations have collaborated to build a system of dashboards and alerts that monitor patients' conditions as they're reported to emergency rooms.

Sapphire, a Business Objects S.A. Platinum partner, specializes in projects that bring data out of printed reports and make it more actionable in the enterprise. EMA provides member hospitals with a team of emergency-room doctors and a patient-information software system.

"We realized after Sept. 11 that if there is a bioweapons attack, most patients are going to go to the emergency department for care rather than their primary care physicians," said Jonathan Rothman, director of data management at EMA. "We had 3.2 million patients in our data warehouse. So we looked at various methods we could use to place patients in syndromic groups."

As part of the syndromic system, EMA uses Business Objects' namesake product to query patients' files in the data warehouse, assigning them to syndromic groups based on their presenting complaints. This classification is done using methodology that EMA helped to develop working in concert with the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense's ESSENCE (Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics) Program, and the New York City Department of Health and New York State Department of Health.

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