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Health Systems Integration in Minnesota: How Informatics Plays a Key Role

Posted By Bree Allen, Friday, October 09, 2015
Updated: Friday, October 09, 2015

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has a reputation of being a national leader in outbreak detection and control (despite its portrayal in the 2011 blockbuster film Contagion). As examples, MDH led the 2011 investigation into a national anthrax scare and in 2007, uncovered the mystery of the pig-brain disease that was infecting employees at a Minnesota pork processing plant. I can’t fail to mention the well-known “Team D” or “Team Diarrhea,” a collaboration between graduate students at the University of Minnesota and MDH to investigate suspected food safety issues. Despite these accomplishments, like most health departments, MDH is working to improve interoperability and integration of its information systems with internal and external partners. This interoperability will help create a strong, flexible health IT ecosystem that can support scientific advancement and lead to a continuously improving health system.

I am very fortunate to be working with MDH‘s Office of Health Information Technology (OHIT) during my tenure as a Health Systems Integration Program (HSIP) fellow. OHIT does innovative work in the fields of informatics and e-health, specifically ensuring collaboration and coordination across state government to maximize federal and state investments in health information technology and infrastructure development. As I started the fellowship in June, I quickly learned how OHIT’s informatics work is interconnected with epidemiology, especially surveillance, and how the HSIP Fellowship supports both. My work this year will be done in the informatics realm, supporting the use of data, information, and knowledge to improve population health.

As a state health department we have numerous important information systems that collect, store, and use data for public health functions, including maternal and child health, disease surveillance, and vital statistics. There has been a national push to move toward modernizing public health information systems and to make these systems standards-based and interoperable.

OHIT began inventorying these datasets and the information systems in 2009, with an assessment (which is now a tool for state health departments to assess system needs and opportunities by the Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII)). Given the growing needs for better electronic exchange with data partners and expectations of bidirectional exchanges with the clinical sector, there is a compelling business need for the department to conduct agency-wide assessments of key information systems to better understand exchange capabilities and utilization of standards and to create plans to achieve improved exchange capabilities.

As an HSIP Fellow I am working with OHIT to update the 2009 MDH informatics assessment. We are identifying the needs of current information systems to better support public health practice, to allow for electronic exchange of information, and to aid in planning efforts to modernize public health information systems to become more standards-based and interoperable. The updated assessment outcomes will inform MDH prioritization and coordination of electronic data exchange with external customers including public health reporting for meaningful use. It will also help build a communications dashboard of program readiness and plans for electronic data exchange that can be shared with external customers (e.g., health care providers, hospitals, local health departments) for planning and resource allocation. Ultimately, this informatics assessment will support the creation of an agency-wide strategy to further integrate MDH information systems and to make MDH’s systems more interoperable with both internal and external exchange partners.
Bree Allen is a Health Systems Integration Program (HSIP) fellow at the Minnesota Department of Health. Are you interested in hosting a fellow? HSIP and APHIF host-site applications are now open for a limited time. Learn how to apply for your health department’s own HSIP fellow on

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