Improving Public Health through Health IT

James Daniel and Lauren Wu | April 28, 2014

About Public Health Reporting

You’ve heard about disease outbreaks of flu, measles, and salmonella on the news. Have you ever wondered how disease outbreaks are detected and tracked? Local and state public health departments rely on information from health care providers. Traditionally, this information was reported by paper, phone, and fax. Health IT tools can provide a faster and more accurate way of moving critical information from providers to health departments where outbreaks are identified, tracked, and managed. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 provides incentives for providers to adopt electronic health record (EHR) systems and to use those systems in meaningful ways. Some of those meaningful ways include public health reporting components like: lab results, immunizations, and number of cases of certain diseases.

Using health IT tools, electronic reporting of public health data replaces traditional paper-based and fax reporting. This faster, more efficient method allows public health departments to better protect the community’s health External Links Disclaimer. Public health departments use the collected data from providers to understand how much disease is in a community and to develop responses more quickly and efficiently. In 2005, only eight states could accept lab results electronically. Today, 48 states can receive labs electronically. Over 1,800 provider sites nationwide have updated their EHRs to electronically send immunization data to registries. Immunization registries help providers give the right vaccines at the right time. Since the beginning of HITECH, more and more primary care providers are choosing to report public health data like lab results and immunizations electronically (refer to Figure 1). 

public health measures include immunization reporting, syndromic surveillance, and electronic lab reporting

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Note: public health measures include immunization reporting, syndromic surveillance, and electronic lab reporting
Graphic available online at:

In conjunction with the Public Health Informatics Conference this week, the ONC is excited to release an issue brief [PDF – 678kb] demonstrating how health IT tools improve public health reporting to build healthier communities.

Looking Forward

Looking ahead, the ONC will continue to serve as the convener and central coordinator for critical health IT advancement and innovation in the nation. HITECH opened the door to align public health with the national health IT strategy. The ONC will continue to promote the use of health IT for the public health community to respond to outbreak challenges more efficiently and protect the health outcomes of Americans. The ONC welcomes and encourages the public health community’s continued engagement in standards work and emerging initiatives for population health. Health IT tools are already helping move public health data faster and more accurately so health departments can plan their responses efficiently. The work being done today will provide more innovative and rapid ways to improve public health in the future.