Since new technologies emerge every day, the field of local public health can reap the benefits of our nation’s expanding health information technology (IT) infrastructure. At my local health department (LHD) in Seminole County, FL, we recently implemented electronic processes to improve data collection and screening efficiency. Investing in electronic processes have made my LHD staff more productive and my community healthier.
The Division of School Health collects data on services provided to 14,000 students in 64 elementary, middle, and high schools in Seminole County. In previous years, data was hand-tallied by school nurses and collected in paper forms each month. Numbers were verified by the lead school board nurse and then mailed to the program manager and data specialist who reviewed the data, conducted calculations, and entered it into our health management systems. Several challenges emerged from this process. First, it was tough to track school data submissions since errors and duplicative data were common. We experienced an increase in processing time with collating data, performing calculations, and mailing forms. Ensuring that school staff had access to updated forms and reading handwritten entries also proved difficult.
To address these issues, our interagency team developed an electronic data collection form. The electronic data collection form automates the collection process and calculations to decrease errors, reduce the reporting time, and accelerate data entry into the health management systems. Since the system is user-friendly, the Division of School Health adopted forms to gather the data obtained from Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings. Now an electronic label with student information is affixed to each form prior to the screening day. In previous years, labels were created by each school and delivered to the Division of School Health. Information on the labels varied and often displayed incorrect, missing, or unnecessary details. Staff changed often and new hires were uncertain about the process for creating labels, thus requiring additional time and resources spent on training staff, picking up or delivering labels, correcting information, and reprinting labels. Delays in generating the labels at the schools and errors often led to postponements in the screening process.
Since our interagency team devised this system to electronically generate labels in-house, staff with the Division of School Health reduced their time spent on the process. The process is so effective that it received a Model Practice Award from NACCHO this year. NACCHO’s Model Practices Program recognizes LHDs’ innovative programs, resources, administrative practices, or tools that demonstrate exemplary and replicable qualities in response to a local public health need. My LHD’s electronic data collection practice was one of five public health informatics practices selected this year, highlighting how other LHDs are discovering that investments in new technologies can advance service delivery and improve the public’s health.
NACCHO, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will again host the Public Health Informatics Conference in 2016. This conference offers an incredible opportunity to address the science of public health informatics, evolving public health systems, and public health’s role in our nation’s expanding health IT infrastructure, particularly as it relates to LHDs. This year’s theme is “Access, Analysis, Action,” highlighting how public health professionals can procure technology, understand the meaning of data, and apply lessons learned about the meaning of data in their community.
Abstracts are now open for the conference through Jan. 27, 2016. Since 2003, this conference has delivered opportunities to connect with colleagues, share new research, and discover how to navigate the increasingly connected public health enterprise. I hope that you will join me at the 2016 Public Health Informatics Conference to discover how to implement global healthcare IT initiatives at your LHD. If your LHD has implemented best practices in public health informatics, I encourage you to submit an abstract today. Learn more about the conference at http://phiconference.org/, and read more about the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County’s electronic data collection and screening label creation at http://www.naccho.org/topics/modelpractices/.