The workloads that public health departments nationwide will be forced to grapple with under the electronic health records meaningful use program could double over the next year, according to a new study.

Stage 2 of the EHR program requires automated electronic laboratory reporting of notifiable diseases. Though past studies have cited that public health departments will experience a marked increase in volumes with the introduction of electronic laboratory reporting, researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing claim that their study is the first to estimate what will occur with the Stage 2 required adoption of such reporting.

"An increase of the magnitude we estimate will significantly impact local and state health departments' workloads as they follow up on reports, placing pressure on these departments, many of which have had budget cuts, to do more with less," lead author Brian Dixon, Regenstrief Institute investigator and assistant professor of health informatics, said in a written statement.

Dixon recommended that public health and informatics professionals "should work together to strengthen the public health infrastructure, developing and evaluating methods for assisting health departments with the anticipated reporting volume increases." The bottom line, he said, is that "public health concerns are growing, and we will likely need greater support from various levels of government."

To make their forecast, researchers used data from the Indiana Network for Patient Care which electronically captures and handles several million secure transactions of clinically relevant data, such as daily laboratory test results, medication and treatment histories.

"With this study, public health officials and policy makers in all states can begin to plan for a future that is right around the corner," added Dixon.

The study is published in the Online Journal of Public Health Informatics.

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