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City Seeks to Expand Database to Keep Closer Tabs on Health Trends

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TWC News: City Seeks to Expand Database to Keep Closer Tabs on Health Trends
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In an effort to keep closer tabs on health trends, the New York City Department of Health is looking to get access to more data about residents. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

The New York City Department of Health is constantly keeping close-to-real-time tabs on infectious disease trends, analyzing data from doctors' offices and hospital emergency departments through its syndromic surveillance system.

"Recently, the system has been heavily relied upon during these emergency events, using it during the pandemic H1N1 or Sandy," says Robert Mathes, a city research scientist.

Now, the DOH is looking to pharmacies. The city currently receives information voluntarily from two large pharmacy chains about over-the-counter and prescription medication sold, but wants to officially expand that database.

"The health code does authorize us to actually inspect pharmacy records if we are conducting a public health investigation, but it does not explicitly authorize us to collect this information on a systematic and ongoing basis," says Dr. Jay Varma, deputy health commissioner for disease control.

The proposal would not impact small independently-owned pharmacies who may not have electronic point of sale systems already set up.

"It's really great for monitoring trends of both communicable disease as well as non-communicable disease," Mathes says.

It also allows the city to look for unknown or unexpected trends. So when there's an uptick in theraflu sales in certain zip codes, it's a pretty good indicator, even before the emergency room data comes in, that influenza-like illnesses may be on the rise.

The Department of Health is also looking to get greater access to electronic medical records from providers to help them investigate disease outbreaks more efficiently.

"This is for our public health investigations, when we have contacts of communicable diseases or carriers as part of our investigations or our disease surveillance activities," Varma says.

The Board of Health will vote on these and other proposed changes at the next meeting.

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