Just like a weather map can show viewers current and predicted weather patterns, a health information technology company, Health Monitoring Systems (HMS; Pittsburgh), says it can show communities current and predicted health conditions, such as when a community is on the verge of a pandemic like the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu).

"We want to be the AccuWeather for healthcare," HMS President/CEO Kevin Hutchison told Healthcare InfoTech Business Report. "We want to show the health conditions ... changes in health conditions, just like you'd see on the evening news weather report."

HMS said it has been working with public health departments across the U.S. to help track and characterize the outbreak of the swine flu since the first cases in the U.S. were reported in April. The company says this type of monitoring is a new field it is pioneering in the healthcare information technology arena, community health surveillance.

Hutchinson said his company works with healthcare organizations and public health departments to collect emergency room admission data. Then, the data is aggregated using the HMS EpiCenter software service and measured against baselines, customized by region, for time and day using statistical filters that incorporate predictive algorithms and probabilistic modeling, HMS said. By analyzing this information, HMS is able to help communities detect a pandemic event early, Hutchison said.

"We look for people coming into the ER with common complaints," Hutchison said. "In this case we added some specific checks for people who have a fever and stating that they just got back from Mexico."

According to the company, the HMS EpiCenter is currently providing real-time public health information by gathering data from about 350 hospitals in 15 states – acting like a "forecaster" for the spread of disease. This includes service to some of the areas first hit by the H1N1 scare, including Ohio and northern New Jersey, HMS said.

"Our researchers are developing techniques to track patients from the moment they access hospital care through the point that they are diagnosed," said Jim Durrell, chief technical officer at HMS. "This includes patients who are seeking treatment because they are concerned about exposure to the virus and those who have influenza-like symptoms."

The technology also is capable of providing what Hutchison called "situational awareness." For instance, with concern about the swine flu, the HMS EpiCenter can determine how much hospitals are being utilized. The software can trace a patient from the time they enter the hospital until the time they are discharged.

"Say there are 100 people going in saying 'I think I have a swine flu'," Hutchison said. "What we can do is see how many of those people were diagnosed with an actual flu or flu symptoms."

Importantly, Hutchison noted that the EpiCenter is a software service and does not require the hospital to install anything. The company's technology works with existing systems already in place, he said.

"The thing that we always emphasize is we're not really selling software, we're basically just making them successful when they want to have a picture (of healthcare conditions)," Hutchison said.

"The public health professionals we serve are taking the outbreak of H1N1 very seriously and are working incredibly hard to understand what is happening and how it affects each of our communities," Hutchison said. "We have been responding to a high volume of calls from public health officials from across the U.S. at all hours of the day and night. Their diligence and commitment to our health and safety is exemplary."