Massachusetts Disease Tracking System is a National Model

A Department of Public Health computer system tracks unusual disease patterns in real time.

by / March 25, 2003
BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney said last week that the state's Syndromic Surveillance System, which was designed for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), will be used by the federal government as part of a national early detection surveillance system.

The system is designed to help public health officials track outbreaks of illness in Eastern Massachusetts, and will analyze trends or spikes in illness within 24 hours of complaints, symptoms or diagnoses being entered into a patient's medical record by hundreds of Harvard Vanguard doctors who care for more than 100,000 patients in Massachusetts.

On a daily basis, the DPH can monitor the information by geography and time, enabling the department to identify where and when unusual patterns or clusters of illness are occurring to provide maximum protection of confidential patient information.

"There is no better early warning and detection system available," said Public Health Commissioner Christine Ferguson. "This health information is in real time, available to us shortly after a person visits their doctor's office or calls their clinician for advice."

The system is the basis of a national demonstration project under development for the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The Massachusetts project went live October 2001, and the federal government funded the development of the specialized computer system as part of the CDC's bio terrorism preparedness and response funding to states.

Earlier this month, DPH said it joined the EPA and DEP to initiate Biowatch in the Greater Boston Metropolitan area, an environmental air-monitoring program to detect anthrax, smallpox and other harmful biological agents.

DPH also said it is working with the Massachusetts Hospital Association on surge planning -- the ability for each of seven designated regions in the state to care for an additional 500 acutely ill patients in the event of a chemical or bio terrorism event and the establishment of decontamination units at hospitals and other community locations throughout Massachusetts.

Office of Gov. Mitt Romney