Researchers aim to centralize N.C. emergency room data to combat epidemics, bioterrorism

CHAPEL HILL -- Hospital emergency rooms constitute a key part of the first line of defense against infectious disease epidemics like SARS and even bioterrorism, but word of what happens in one emergency room might not get out to others for days or weeks. Local, state and national health officials need such information to identify and respond to public health emergencies fast.

Now University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty members are trying to make the system react more quickly to health-care threats. They have linked emergency departments at three institutions -- UNC Hospitals, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Cape Fear Memorial Hospital -- into the new North Carolina Emergency Department Database (NCEDD).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supported preliminary work to demonstrate the benefits of standardized electronic emergency department data. To expand their fledgling system, the UNC team and colleagues sought and received a new $1.25 million contract from the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' division of public health.

As in the demonstration project, funding was provided to the state by the CDC to expand development of the NCEDD. The funding will enable NCEDD to take in another 10 to 15 of North Carolina's largest hospitals within a year.

Eventually, researchers hope to incorporate all 111 of the state's hospital-based emergency departments, said Dr. Anna E. Waller, research assistant professor of emergency medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. The emerging computerized network could serve as a national model for statewide emergency room data collection and use.

"Because of its potential usefulness, this is something we are pretty excited about," Waller said. "When we get the 20 largest emergency departments in the state to participate, then we'll have details from a high proportion of the overall emergency visits for Nor

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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