Children's Hospital Boston wins $2.5 million in health surveillance grants

10/08/04

First-time CDC program sponsors public health research

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made two large grants to the Children's Hospital Boston Informatics Program (CHIP) as part of a first-ever CDC initiative to sponsor innovative research in public health. The grants, aimed at health promotion and public health protection, give Children's an opportunity to pilot two computer-based health surveillance programs.

Under the first grant, focusing on health promotion in the workplace, CHIP will test a scheme for improving control of influenza outbreaks in two populations employees at a U.S. company and hospital patients in Canada. CHIP Investigator Dr. Kenneth Mandl will lead the $1.5 million project. At its center is a secure, electronic health record system, developed at Children's over the past decade, which allows information-sharing among healthcare entities, but is under the patient's personal control. CHIP will link these personal health records with public-health information systems, with the goal of increasing immunizations and reducing the number of flu cases.

"By combining these two elements, we hope to promote good practices around influenza control," says Mandl, an internationally recognized expert on biosurveillance and personally controlled health records.

The second grant, of $1 million, will focus on advanced technologies for investigating and managing disease outbreaks and was awarded to Dr. Aneel Advani, a new CHIP investigator in informatics and infectious disease. Advani will direct a collaboration between Children's, the NASA Ames Research Center in California, and public health departments in Massachusetts and Georgia to develop an automated call center for conducting large-scale epidemiologic investigations during an outbreak. People living in affected areas will be telephoned, and after a brief conversation they will be directed to an automated system, using computer-generated voice technology, where they can provide details of their illness in confidence.

"During a large-scale outbreak, such as the recent experience with SARS in Toronto, health departments can become overwhelmed by the large number of case investigations and public inquiries," notes Advani. "This automated system will allow health agencies to rapidly enhance their capabilities during outbreak emergencies."

This the first time that the CDC is making research grants to academic scientists analogous to those awarded by the National Institutes of Health, notes Mandl. "Until now, there has been no agency to approach for major funding of public health research," he says.

The pilot projects at Children's will further a new federal agenda to improve the nation's health information infrastructure. In July, Tommy Thompson, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, outlined a 10-year plan to deliver "consumer-centric and information-rich health care."

For more information on the CDC grants, see http://www.cdc.gov/od/hpri/awards.htm.

Children's Hospital Boston is the nation's leading pediatric medical center, the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts' children, and the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Children's provides pediatric and adolescent health services for patients from birth through age 21. In addition to 325 inpatient beds and comprehensive outpatient programs, it houses the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, nine members of the Institute of Medicine and 10 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. For more information about the hospital visit: http://www.childrenshospital.org.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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