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The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) recently won a prestigious national award for a disease tracking system that enables the agency to quickly recognize and respond to outbreaks of illness in the city.

It was announced during last week’ s Public Health Information Network Conference at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that the BPHC’s Infectious Disease Bureau will receive the 2009 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Davies Public Health Award of Excellence.

The Boston Syndromic Surveillance System (B-SYNSS) allows public health officials to monitor and characterize acute care activity across the city, and take action much more quickly to stem outbreaks.

“When we can quickly inform healthcare providers about disease activity in the community, there is less delay in diagnosis,” said Julia R. Gunn, a registered nurse and director of the BPHC’s Communicable Disease Control Division.

BPHC Executive Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said the surveillance system was critical to helping the city contain the spread of the H1N1 virus in the spring.

“We were able to track trends in Boston, including the age groups that were most affected and the areas of the city where we were seeing the most flu activity,” she said. “That allowed us to target prevention resources most effectively in real time.”

Denver Public Health will also receive a Davies Award for its clinical information system. The awards will be presented in March 2010 at the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in Atlanta.

Since 1994, the HIMSS Nicholas E. Davies Award of Excellence has recognized excellence in the implementation and value of health information technology. The award honors Dr. Nicholas E. Davies, an Atlanta-based physician, president-elect of the American College of Physicians, and a member of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Improving the Patient Record who died in an airplane crash in 1991 with Sen. John Tower. Davies believed that computer-based patient record was needed to improve patient care.

“The achievements of the Boston Public Health Commission and Denver Public Health demonstrate how managing and sharing patient care data with their information systems have had a positive impact on the health status of the populations they serve,” said Amy Ising, chair of the HIMSS Davies Public Health Steering Committee.