Health IT

EHR mining helps athenahealth respond to Miami Zika alert

The vendor sent a specific notice via the EHR to 94 clinicians at 24 different athenahealth clients, serving 1,800 at-risk patients in the affected area of Miami.

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 26: Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz institute on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. The mosquito transmits the Zika virus and is being studied at the institute. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Once in a while, electronic health records actually do live up to some of the hype rather than cause frustration among clinicians. This week saw one such example of EHRs and analytics providing population health services in near-real time, in this case, to address the Zika virus.

With fears of Zika spreading, well, virally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, for the first time ever, issued a travel advisory about a location in the continental United States. Monday, the CDC warned pregnant women, those hoping to get pregnant and their partners living in or traveling to the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami to get tested and take precautions.

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Within a few hours of that advisory coming out, health IT cloud service provider athenahealth went to work, examining records across its network to find pregnant and sexually active women of reproductive age in Wynwood who had not had a Zika test. “It was the next day that we published alerts,” said Dr. Brian Anderson, senior manager of clinical effectiveness for Watertown, Massachusetts-based athenahealth.

One alert about the CDC advisory went out to all 80,000 healthcare providers on athenahealth’s network.

The vendor also sent a specific notice via the EHR to 94 clinicians at 24 different athenahealth clients, serving 1,800 at-risk patients in the affected area of Miami. “Those providers also got an email follow-up,” Anderson said.

The majority of patients were affiliated with two organizations: Borinquen Health Care Center of Miami Dade, a Federally Qualified Health Center with a location in Wynwood, as well as a nearby OB/GYN practice. “Neither had identified any Zika patient or at-risk patients,” Anderson said.

Tuesday evening, athenahealth started sending emails to those patients, and has been following up with phone calls since then, urging them to make appointments for Zika tests. The hope is that some will start getting tested within a few days.

“We’re going to be able to track that,” said Stewart Richardson, senior associate at athenahealth’s athenaResearch division. Richardson built the search parameters based on the CDC alert.

“By early next week, we should know if it was effective to bring the patients in to get them screened,” Anderson added.

Anderson does worry that state and local public-health authorities could get overwhelmed with the number of Zika tests ordered, and he bases that on data pulled from the athenaClinicals network. He said that there has been a threefold increase in Zika testing nationwide this week, with the majority of tests ordered in Florida.

Athenahealth is monitoring Zika test results across its entire network, and the vendor will be sharing aggregated insights based on its records, Richardson said. Friday, the company published data showing that 75 percent of tests ordered through the athenahealth network have come from OB/GYN and primary care physicians.

athenahealth Zika

Images: Mario Tama/Getty Images, athenaResearch