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Conversations on Public Health Surveillance with Lesliann Helmus, MS, CHTS-CP


[ Music ] Hello. I’m Chesley Richards,
CDC’s Deputy Director for Public Health Scientific
Services and welcome to another installment
of Conversations on Public Health Surveillance. Today I’m joined
by Lesliann Helmus. Lesliann, welcome.>>Thank you, Dr. Richards.>>Lesliann, what do
you do here at CDC?>>I’m the program manager for the National Notifiable
Diseases Surveillance System. This is a collaboration
that extends all the way from local public health
and even the physicians in the community up to the
World Health Organization. The physicians and laboratorians
in hospitals, when they diagnose or become aware of an important
health event notify the public health department and then those
local health departments take action to control disease. That information is
shared with the state where they do broader
assessments and they forward
the data to CDC. At the national level, we make
sure that data is delivered to the programs who
work with those diseases and they use the data to
make decisions about how to allocate resources, to evaluate whether effective
approaches are being used to control disease, and to understand the
disease across the country. And where there are events
of international concern, CDC acts to initiate the
transmission of that data to WHO so the other countries
can also respond.>>Wow. Sounds very important. How did you get interested
in surveillance?>>Well, I tell you, I’ve
done almost all of my career in public health
doing surveillance. When I was a student
working on my master’s degree in epidemiology,
I got a summer job with the state public health
department in Ohio and I started out doing cancer surveillance and cancer cluster
investigations. It was really intriguing
and since then I– you know, in my career
in public health, I’ve worked on occupational
diseases and injuries, done surveillance of
infectious diseases, and even done some syndromic
surveillance, which is one of the newer strategies
we’re using.>>Wow, what a broad
career in surveillance. I understand that you’re
leading an effort here at CDC called the
Notifiable Disease Modernization Initiative. Can you tell us a little
bit more about that?>>Yeah. We recognize that a lot of notifiable diseases
reporting has really not evolved with the technology over
time and we want to try to use informatics and information technology
to do the job better. So, often local health
departments have to send the data on the same
cases to multiple places at CDC and we’d like to
streamline that. We’re trying to use data
standards to help do that. We also recognize that when
the data gets here to CDC, the programs need timely,
accurate, and complete data and we want to make sure that the data is getting
to them effectively. We’ve also got old
ancient systems that are processing this data
and we’d like to retire those.>>Yeah, that sounds terrific. What do you think some of the biggest challenges
are in surveillance?>>Well, you know, we are
really working to, as I said, incorporate the technology. In particular, we’re using
the kinds of standards that health care
uses for messaging and then also for
coding the data. So, we’re using standardized
codes. We’re developing
message mapping guides that instruct the
health departments how to send that data to CDC. We’re building new
systems here– really new one big system to
process that data and then to provision to the programs
and try to make sure it’s in new databases for them. We’ve got three approaches
we’re taking to that. The first involves
developing the specifications for the message. The second one focuses on
that processing system. The third one is technical
assistance to the jurisdictions so that they can
do this packaging and introduce new technology
that they need to use.>>That sounds fantastic. So, those are challenges,
but it sounds like these present
opportunities for the future. What do you think the
big opportunities are?>>Well, I think
there are two things that are really important to us. One is that the data
that we’re sending now– and we’ve set up
these messages– it takes a long time and
we’re working really carefully with the programs to
identify data elements, but it’s pretty cumbersome. I hope that in the future we’ll
have things well enough defined that when there’s a public
health emergency we can quickly tell the jurisdictions this
is the data that’s needed and they’ll know how to send
the demographics and how to send treatment information
and how to send symptoms so we can much more quickly
establish that transmission. The other thing we want to work on is how we present the
NNDSS data on the web because right now our
presentation is based on the old paper format
that we use for MMWR and we think we can make
it a lot more interactive and a lot more useful to people.>>That’s terrific. It sounds like really you’re
building this state-of-the-art surveillance system
for the future.>>I think we are.>>Yeah. Thank you so much for
joining us today and thank you for joining us on this
installment of Conversations on Public Health Surveillance.

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