The August heat may be as intense as ever, but government and health officials across the country are preparing for the coming flu season and the possibility that the H1N1 (swine) flu virus could affect half the US population , according to a presidential health panel. In Maryland, state government, public health officials and the state's 46 hospitals have created a statewide computerized system  for tracking the disease, which will help government and health officials mobilize a quick response in the event of an outbreak.
The new computer network, called the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE ), will allow hospitals to share data on patients admitted, diagnoses and treatments. It is reportedly the first of its kind across the country to include all hospitals. Drugstores will also report on sales of flu and cold medications. While the system is promoted as part of the state's preparation for another outbreak of H1N1, it will help hospitals and public health officials to quickly track the spread  of other diseases.
In related news, Maryland officials have made $10 million in start-up funding available to hospitals through increased reimbursement rates for the adoption of a statewide health information exchange . The funding positions Maryland to apply for federal e-health funds approved under the federal stimulus program. A state commission has chosen a non-profit entity as the health information exchange, the Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients  (CRISP). CRISP is advised by a broad group of Maryland health care stakeholders. In May, Governor O'Malley signed a bill to help doctors adopt e-health records  by requiring insurers to offer financial incentives for adopting the technology. Once implemented statewide, the health exchange will allow providers to share clinical information, better track diseases, and has the potential to help reduce health care costs by informing best medical practices and improving the quality of care statewide. The system will have a patient approval process to help ensure the privacy of a patient's medical history.
Kaiser News - Report Warns Swine Flu Could Affect Half of US Population 
Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients (CRISP )
Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE )