Clinical Data Systems to Support Public Health Practice: A National Survey of Software and Storage Systems Among Local Health Departments

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Abstract

Context:

Numerous software and data storage systems are employed by local health departments (LHDs) to manage clinical and nonclinical data needs. Leveraging electronic systems may yield improvements in public health practice. However, information is lacking regarding current usage patterns among LHDs.

Objective:

To analyze clinical and nonclinical data storage and software types by LHDs.

Design:

Data came from the 2015 Informatics Capacity and Needs Assessment Survey, conducted by Georgia Southern University in collaboration with the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Participants:

A total of 324 LHDs from all 50 states completed the survey (response rate: 50%).

Main Outcome Measures:

Outcome measures included LHD's primary clinical service data system, nonclinical data system(s) used, and plans to adopt electronic clinical data system (if not already in use). Predictors of interest included jurisdiction size and governance type, and other informatics capacities within the LHD. Bivariate analyses were performed using χ2 and t tests.

Results:

Up to 38.4% of LHDs reported using an electronic health record (EHR). Usage was common especially among LHDs that provide primary care and/or dental services. LHDs serving smaller populations and those with state-level governance were both less likely to use an EHR. Paper records were a common data storage approach for both clinical data (28.9%) and nonclinical data (59.4%). Among LHDs without an EHR, 84.7% reported implementation plans.

Conclusions:

Our findings suggest that LHDs are increasingly using EHRs as a clinical data storage solution and that more LHDs are likely to adopt EHRs in the foreseeable future. Yet use of paper records remains common. Correlates of electronic system usage emerged across a range of factors. Program- or system-specific needs may be barriers or facilitators to EHR adoption. Policy makers can tailor resources to address barriers specific to LHD size, governance, service portfolio, existing informatics capabilities, and other pertinent characteristics.

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