06 November 2009

ISDS Members and Distribute Participants Win 2009 Davies Awards

The ISDS is pleased to announce that one of its Board Directors, Julia Gunn, along with her team at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), recently received the 2009 Davies Public Health Award of Excellence for their work with syndromic surveillance. As one of its original participants, the Boston Syndromic Surveillance System (B-SYNSS) has made significant contributions to the ISDS Distribute collaborative.

The BPHC Infectious Disease Bureau was one of two institutions to win this award, along with active ISDS member Art Davidson for the Denver Public Health Information Service (DPH-IS). Both Julia and Art made presentations at a breakfast on September 2nd, 2009 as a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ PHIN Conference in Atlanta. The Davies Award, managed by HIMSS, is meant to “[Recognize] public health achievement through health information management, specifically electronic health records(1).”

In a recent phone interview with Julia Gunn, she explained that the BPHC decided to apply for the award because syndromic surveillance has really changed how they look at information. For example, having a syndromic surveillance system enabled them to participate in Distribute and to compare data with other participating health departments. Comparing data between jurisdictions allows Distribute participants to see differences across regions and urban areas (rather than simply state to state), revealing new patterns in disease spread.

Not only did their use of syndromic surveillance allow the BPHC to see new patterns in disease spread, but it also increased situational awareness, especially with Boston’s H1N1 outbreak this past spring. With more information available on influenza-like illness (ILI), the BPHC could adjust both practice and response as necessary. Changes in practice, in turn, led to the continued evaluation and modification of their syndromic surveillance system. Over time, the BPHC has been able to tweak its system’s definitions for ILI based on population-specific descriptions, further improving disease monitoring.

When asked what part of the Distribute Project has been most valuable to her team, Gunn responded that it has been the active community of practice. When working with a moving target such as an epidemic, having more details readily available better equips a health department to respond appropriately. Having access to a support system where ideas and strategies can be shared--especially between similar jurisdictions--has been beneficial. It was particularly valuable for Boston to be able to compare data with New York City this past spring, whose outbreak of H1N1 was slightly ahead of Boston’s. Due to similarities that the two cities share, such as weather patterns and school systems, it was helpful to trade insight and experience between the respective health departments.

The ISDS would like to congratulate Julia and the BPHC for their receipt of the Davies Award, and for contributing to the awareness and improvement of syndromic surveillance.

1. HIMSS News: Two Organizations Honored with 2009 Davies Public Health Award of Excellence

Additional Information:
BPHC Press Release

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