1. Verification & preparation:
Information technology could help the collection of data for outbreak investigation. By collecting data electronically, it could help identify outbreak and clusters more easily. We can more easily judge if there is an outbreak through electronical medical records (EMR). For example, we could plot all suspected cases spatially on the map to see if there could be suspected epidemiological linkage. If medical records are recorded on paper, it would take a lot of time to digitize the data through data entry for future analysis. IT also helps in the diagnosis verification. The Laboratory Information Management System helps track samples and record test results. If the expertise is limited, the lab technicians could use telepathology to the images to other experienced pathologists to establish a timely diagnosis. Information also help to prepare for a field trip through enhancing coordination and communication with different stakeholders.
2. Describe the outbreak:
After a case definition is established, IT could help to efficiently analyze and filter the existing data for the identification of cases. This could be done through advanced statistical software or data visualization tools. For example, we may construct a line listing of suspected cases. Statistical software would allow us to search, sort, and manipulate the data easily. We may have defined a time, place, and person to act as a clear case definition, which we could use as criteria to quickly filter all the cases using statistical software. Visualization tools could help us quickly plot an epidemic curve, so that we could understand the pattern and trend of the spread, and learn about the incubation period of the disease.
3. Hypothesis & testing:
Advances in bioinformatics and data science approaches applied in genetics and genomics may mean that we could analyze samples or identify risk factors more easily. The usage of statistics packages in IT also help us confirm or reject the null hypothesis, such as doing statistical tests, computing the p-value, correlation or risk ratio.
4. Response & action:
IT is essential for communication and the dissemination of information. The internet and social media could be used by the health agency to communicate the public health message, warning citizens of a new epidemic and what measures they could take for disease prevention. IT could also help continued surveillance. For example, under an epidemic, a dedicated system could be set up for nearby residents to report any new cases to disease control. This opens up more pathways for passive reporting. IT also helps real-time communication between health facilities in different parts of the country to share findings, ensure capacity for incoming patients, and coordinate medical supplies.