The Role of Data Management in Controlling Foodborne Diseases

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Blockchain technology could solve food safety and fraud by enabling immediate traceability to the point of origin.
Blockchain technology could solve food safety and fraud by enabling immediate traceability to the point of origin. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

By Morne Bekker, country manager at NetApp South Africa

Recent heightened media attention around the Listeriosis outbreak has highlighted the necessity for increased digital communication and data storage to eradicate foodborne diseases on a more proactive basis.

Listeriosis was essentially transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food products, with pregnant women, the elderly and persons with underlying health issues such diabetes, cancer and HIV considered to be high risk cases.

Within Johannesburg, the last outbreak took place from August 1977 up until April 1978 with only 14 lab-confirmed cases. The most recent outbreak resulted in over 948 cases – the largest known case on a global front.

According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, a number of national investigative strategies were employed in the identification of the source of the disease. These included laboratory-based reports, the completion of notifiable medical condition report forms, investigative forms as completed by medical professionals, environmental sample testing and molecular epidemiological investigations.

Additionally, from the start it was clear that public health laboratories stood a better chance of detecting the source of the disease should test results be shared in real-time.

Data management was therefore an essential component within the disease eradiation process to collate this data and ensure the free movement of electronic records.

Ultimately, a centralised and shared electronic record for each patient could foster better communication and care coordination among clinicians across disparate healthcare settings, while assisting authorities with the colossal task of identifying the bacterial source.

Although most South African healthcare organisations take a careful look at how to manage their data, many healthcare facilities still don’t manage medical records on a digital level. For example, a 600 bed hospital may have between 200 and 400 stand-alone clinical applications and databases that are not available on the organisation’s intranet, and may not even be used.

However, the clinical information held within the applications is still extremely valuable and can therefore not be destroyed. As this information often is not backed up, this poses a threat to national investigations.

Organisations can however repair the link between the application and the data by consolidating the data into a large clinical repository, centrally located and managed.

The NetApp StorageGRID Healthcare solution can provide intelligent data management for large pools of patient data while allowing the storage and sharing of medical records across healthcare facilities, and automates clinician workflow. The solution provides consistent and reliable data access business continuity, and disaster recovery in multisite disk and tape storage environments.

Such a solution could be valuable as the fears around the Cape drought becomes a reality. As water becomes increasingly scarce, officials have expressed increased concerns around contaminated water sources.

Additionally the warnings have arrived at a time where a seasonal spike in diarrhea occurs annually in Cape Town from February through April. Having a data management solution in place where contaminated water sources can be identified proactively could now mean the difference between life and death.

The listeriosis outbreak can perhaps be a call to action for increased data management and technological innovation in the healthcare arena.

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