‘Digital Bridge’ Promises to Strengthen U.S. Public Health Response to Disease Outbreaks

Any given day, U.S. public health departments receive reports from healthcare providers of new cases of infectious diseases ranging from chickenpox to HIV. These reports are usually filed manually, by mail or web-based forms, which create inefficiencies and can slow responses to disease outbreaks.

A new initiative called Digital Bridge, led by The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) and Deloitte Consulting, is bringing together decision makers from public health, health care, and health information technology to develop a new approach for electronic case reporting of infectious diseases.

Digital Bridge leverages existing public health tools for the new approach to electronic case reporting. When a patient has a potential reportable case, a healthcare provider’s electronic health record system would send an initial electronic case report to an intermediary system that would validate the report against state and local reporting criteria. Cases identified as reportable would be automatically forwarded to the appropriate public health agency.

“Manual reporting is burdensome for both health care and public health,” said PHII Digital Bridge Project Director Jim Jellison, MPH. “Electronic case reporting will improve the accuracy and speed of information exchange between providers and public health departments which will enable more effective responses to disease outbreaks.”

Although case reporting of infectious diseases to public health agencies will be the priority, the Digital Bridge approach will ultimately allow agencies to request information about specific cases from healthcare providers. Doctors and nurses may also request information from public health departments that can help improve patient care.

Digital Bridge will support electronic case reporting implementation in multiple U.S. locations in 2017 and be rolled out nationally as funding allows. After electronic case reporting is implemented for infectious diseases, it is hoped that Digital Bridge will eventually allow public health departments and healthcare providers to work more effectively together on noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Digital Bridge is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


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