Originally published Aug. 28, 2011
When the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia was felt in parts of Georgia, public health employees turned to technology - computers, websites, smart phones and electronic devices - to get the latest updates and news. IT was essential to connect with the sources that could provide the most accurate and fastest information. IT helps you in every facet of your job in public health whether you are tracking an earth quake 500 miles away, vendor issues, surveillance data, or sending a single email to provide safety information to all 5,000 employees in all 159 counties in Georgia.
IT solutions support the core mission of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the myriad of programs, ranging from disease surveillance and notification, to emergency preparedness, to vital records, to food and nutrition services. Add the complexity our 18 Health Districts, all with varying IT solutions for their clinical and programmatic business needs, and we find an opportunity to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the way IT supports our core purpose: Protecting the Lives of Georgians.
However, one major shortfall in Public Health information technology is the various disparate clinical systems. We have four different systems and each is managed and configured differently. This presents an opportunity for cost savings for the Department and, more importantly, an opportunity to aggregate data collection to improve health outcomes for Georgians. Coming up with a solution will not be easy, nonetheless, it must be done to connect the issues in public health and to make sure the information is available when we need it most. The solution will entail the collective problem solving ability of information technology, clinical, and program professionals statewide.
Consequently, the Information Technology Strategic Alignment Workshop will take place on tomorrow, August 30 through Thursday, September 1, in Peachtree City, Georgia. The IT workshop will include major stakeholders in our Department, to include District Health Directors, District MIS Directors, Public Health Executive Leadership, Program Directors, and Program Managers, all working toward a single goal of improving our IT service delivery system; a system that we depend on daily to connect, communicate and measure our outcomes.
As an off-site workshop, participants will be able to devote full attention to setting the necessary priorities regarding information technology solutions and utilization throughout the Department. The expected outcomes are solutions that save money, provide better clinical outcomes, produce real-time data for decision-making, and ultimately impact the bottom line.
So, what is the future of Public Health information technology? We will build an IT system that allows us to communicate, connect and measure our outcomes as an agency. As the Chief Information Officer for the department, I am confident that the years ahead are promising. First, we’re a few weeks away from releasing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new Vital Records Information Systems. This will help the state capture more timely and accurate vital statistical data. Secondly, we’ve visited several states to baseline a new Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) information system. For this effort, we expect to have a statewide United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified system and one that positions us to move from WIC paper food vouchers to electronic benefit transactions (EBT) cards. Finally, we have the leadership in place to make long-lasting change in Public Health information Technology. Commissioner Fitzgerald is committed to improving IT for the Department and has made it one of her critical strategic objectives. Senator Renee Unterman, Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee and Senate sponsor of HB 214, also mentioned last week that public health has to build the IT infrastructure to access the statistical data to measure outcomes in Georgia.
What we’re about to undertake in our Department to transform IT will be difficult, time-consuming, and risky, yet we will be successful because we are committed, capable, and determined to make a difference in the lives of those who depend on us for services.