The idea, she said, is to collect data that go beyond the typical billing information found in computerized hospital databases.
"We want to include clinical information about patients that is of great interest to health-care providers and administrators and is important for epidemic and bioterrorism surveillance," Waller said. "To be prepared for a serious disease outbreak or bioterrorism-related event, we have to be able to recognize what's happening quickly so we and others can respond."
In the past, North Carolina has not had statewide emergency department data collection since it was not a high priority for state officials, although clinicians and researchers have been interested in the possibility for years, she said.
"Emergency departments are where people go when they get very sick suddenly, and so this will be useful not only for surveillance but also for research and quality-of-care issues," Waller said. "It will provide much information we wouldn't get if we were only looking at local health departments or at patients who were actually admitted to hospitals."
In keeping with state and national laws to protect patients' privacy, their names, addresses and other identifying information such as medical record number will not be collected in the system, she said. An important part of the effort has been to design technical solutions capable of extracting needed data quickly with minimal impact on hospital staff, transmitting it securely and standardizing data from different hospitals. Another key aspect will be learning from similar activities taking place in other states and sharing nationally what the UNC team learns.
"We will have information about when the patient arrived, how they got there, their chief complaint or reason for the visit, the triage nurses' assessments including vital signs, what procedures were performed, diagnoses, were patients admitted to the hospital or discharged and other
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill