A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured.
U.S. doctors are tapping into their electronic medical records to identify unvaccinated patients and potentially infected individuals to help contain the worst U.S. measles outbreak in 25 years.
New York's NYU Langone Health network of hospitals and medical offices treats patients from both Rockland County and Brooklyn, two epicenters of the outbreak. It has built alerts into its electronic medical records system to notify doctors and nurses that a patient lives in an outbreak area, based on their Zip code.
"It identifies incoming patients who may have been exposed to measles and need to be assessed," said Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health.
Alerts in a patient's medical record also prompt conversations with their visitors - who may also have been exposed to the virus - about their own health, prior exposure to measles and vaccination history.
U.S. officials have reported more than 700 confirmed cases of measles, the highest level since the virus was deemed eliminated in 2000. The measles virus is highly contagious and can cause blindness, deafness, brain damage or death.
Northern California's Sutter Health, which serves 3 million patients, last month introduced a screening questionnaire about potential measles risk for every patient who tries to book their appointment online.
Dr. Jeffrey Silvers, Sutter Health's medical director of infectious diseases, said people with measles often seek treatment for symptoms such as cough, runny nose or fever before they develop the tell-tale rash. The screening program aims to identify early whether they represent a measles case.
"If a person has a fever plus one of those symptoms, or a rash, they have to answer the next question, which is, 'Have you been outside of the United States in the last three weeks or been exposed to anybody with measles?'" Silvers said.
California so far has had 40 measles cases, most of them in the southern part of the state. Sutter plans to use Epic's software to develop a program to increase measles vaccination coverage, Silver said.
According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated to provide "herd immunity," a form of indirect protection that prevents infection in people too young or sick to be vaccinated. CDC officials have said rising rates of vaccine skepticism are creating undervaccinated populations, weakening herd immunity.
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