Improving Customer Services in the Public Health (PHS)


Agency: Department of Health and Human Services

Title: Improving Customer Services in the Public Health Service (PHS)

Background Information

The Public Health Service (PHS) is implementing initiatives that are aimed at enhancing the way services are provided to customers. In many instances, technology is used to improve responsiveness to customer needs by allowing them easier and more efficient access to information. The following are some examples:

One of the main services provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is timely, high quality public health information to an increasingly broad spectrum of callers--public health personnel, medical professionals, the press and the media, and the general public. This information is crucial in decision making for public policy, resource commitment, medical treatment, and individual health choices such as obtaining appropriate immunizations and avoiding behavioral health risks.

The CDC Voice Information (VIS) is an automated system which provides "information on demand" by allowing individuals using a touch-tone telephone from anywhere in the world at any time to call and receive a broad array of health related information provided verbally over the telephone or sent to their facsimile machine. Over 30 health topics (e.g. health requirements/precautions for international travel, signs and symptoms of Lyme disease) contain over 24 hours of prerecorded verbal information, over a thousand menu choices, and a thousand pages of faxable documents. Usage now exceeds 300,000 calls a year, 2 million minutes of usage, and over 700,000 pages of faxed documents.

CDC Wonder is an automation project that provides public health officials, academic researchers and other, easy and quick access to over 30 large public health data sets and textual databases for query, retrieval, analysis, and graphical presentation. These databases contain health data on a wide range of topics, census data for rate analyses, and textual information on public health policies recommendations, guidelines, etc. It also provides an electronic conduit for state and local health departments, laboratories, hospitals and other providers of health data to send their data to CDC and obtain a host of analyses. CDC Wonder provides a tracking mechanism for CDC to monitor progress towards the Year 2000 Health Objectives for the nation. CDC Wonder also provides an electronic mail facility so users can exchange messages with CDC staff as well as each other.

CDC is implementing the Public Health Laboratory Information System (PHLIS), a PC-based electronic reporting system, to allow laboratories of state public health departments to report data concerning laboratories of state public health departments to report data concerning laboratory isolates to CDC. The system provides quicker access to analyzed data and provides local (intra-state) analysis and reporting as well as national reporting to CDC. PHLIS operates in 50 states, Washington, DC and Guam, and supports laboratory reporting for five pathogens. There is also an ongoing pilot for animal rabies, viral respiratory, and enteric pathogens. The quality of data has substantially improved through PHLIS because validity checks are now performed at the state before the data is sent to CDC. Planned systems enhancements include support for outbreaks, statistical cluster detection and improved graphics and maps for intra-state reporting.

CDC is implementing the Laboratory Information Tracking System (LITS), a PC-network (LAN) based system, that will allow laboratory personnel to dial in to CDC laboratories to obtain results on the specimens they have sent in. LITS will also provide a mechanism for CDC staff to respond, in a timely manner and with minimum difficulty, to inquiries from local hospitals, and state, national and international health officials who have sent specimens to the agency for analyses. LITS is currently operating in only one division laboratory of CDC, but plans are to operate the system in all labs at the agency. A pilot study to implement stand alone versions of LITS is ongoing in three states: Delaware, New Hampshire and West Virginia. These systems will enable laboratory personnel in the states to rack lab results in their own laboratories. The benefits of LITS are related directly to the speed and ease with which test results may be retrieved in response to various types of inquiries and the adaptability of the system to accommodate new laboratories or new tests.

The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) has installed a Fax-on-Demand system that enhances their ability to disseminate research findings and make available information on research opportunities.

The Bureau of Health Resources Development (BHRD) in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is conducting HIV clinical conference calls to disseminate information to the international community. This activity is garnering active participation from other Public Health Service agencies, including the NIH, CDC and Indian Health Service as well as from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Since information regarding HIV care is ever-changing, these live audio teleconferences are far more cost-efficient than videotapes which often cost $60,000 to produce, only to become outdated. The average cost of each audio teleconference which reaches thousands of primary care providers is approximately $6,000.

HRSA's Bureau of Health Professions (BHPR) received one of the 1993 Federal Technology Leadership Awards (government-wide) in November 1993, for an innovative system upgrade made within the National Practitioner Data Bank(NPDB). The NPDB is a resource, mandated by law, for hospitals, state licensing boards and other health care organizations in conducting investigations into the qualifications of health care practitioners.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Customer Service Committee was established to find ways to improve agency responsiveness to the needs of the grantee and applicant community. The Committee has developed a letter to solicit opinions about how well SAMHSA does its job. The letter will be sent to all state mental health and substance abuse directors and to a sample of organizations representing SAMHSA's applicant and grantee community.

The Committee also is analyzing a sample of letters received from the field in order to determine which areas of our operations are of concern to our customers. Plans also are underway to tap staff knowledge of customer issues. The Committee will use the information obtained from these efforts to investigate troublesome issues and to identify exemplary procedures. It will make recommendations for improving Center and Office of the Administrator operations.

Main NPR Category: Customer Service

Related NPR Categories: Cutting Back to Basics

Contact Person: Bill Forbush

Contact Phone: (301) 443-3921

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