The Role of EHRs in Treating Ebola

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Thomas Eric Duncan traveled from Liberia to Dallas, TX on September 19th, 2014 and began showing flu-like symptoms shortly afterwards. On September 30, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. Since then, there have been two other confirmed cases and, as of October 27, the number of possible exposures has reached 165. Though it isn’t an easily contracted disease, in just under a month, Ebola has created a widespread fear across the country.

The CDC and ONC created the Public Health-Electronic Health Records Vendors Collaboration Initiative in 2013. The initiative is now focusing efforts on how to better configure EHR systems for Ebola screening. EHR systems are designed to hold important medical information and utilize it for patient care, disease management, etc. The system can be customized for specific needs – in this case, for the Ebola outbreak.

  • Some EHR systems include patient travel history along with standard data like symptoms and lab results. Analyzing travel information can help physicians determine whether a patient was in an area where they may have been exposed to Ebola.
  • EHR systems can also be updated to incorporate screening questions that have been approved by the CDC. These are designed to alert physicians of where their patients have been, if they have been in contact with people and/or animals (bats, bush meat) in high-risk locations, and whether they should be diagnosed.
  • Updated systems will have implemented ICD-10 classification codes, which include a specific code for Ebola: A98.4, whereas the previous system, ICD-9, did not. The coding system enables officials to immediately track outbreaks and makes it easier to monitor global health threats like Ebola and other infectious diseases.

Author: Apoorva Anupindi