Electronic infection tracking

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At Hershey Medical Center, a sophisticated computer program serves as a watchdog for infection outbreaks. With a few mouse clicks on a Web browser, the hospital’s infection-control staffers can quickly generate reports with charts and graphs illustrating how many patients within a particular unit are infected, and which lab specimen contained the germs.

“It’s more for us to look at the hospital as a whole and look for trends,” said Dr. Kathleen Julian, an infection disease physician. “Is there a cluster of problems in this unit?”

Pennsylvania health officials view the nascent technology as a critical tool for helping hospitals reduce health care costs by identifying potential systemic infection-control problems sooner than is possible by reviewing paper records by hand — an approach some health professionals call “shoe-leather epidemiology.”

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