University System of Md. joins state health info exchange to improve contact tracing

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To help improve contact tracing for students who have tested positive for COVID-19, the University System of Maryland announced Wednesday that it will join a regional health information exchange called Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients (CRISP), which connects health care providers and the Maryland Department of Health.

All testing results will be shared with USM campuses partnered with CRISP, but in an aggregate and unspecified way in order to protect student privacy. To avoid repeated outreach efforts, contract tracers at state and local health departments will be told if the infected person is a student.

Typically, the state health department would call a person who has tested positive and go through series of questions, including whether or not they are a student. If the student self-reports, the university or local health department might reach out to the student and conduct the same contact tracing process again.

By pulling the student out of the standard queue and into a student queue, the health information exchange will help save contact tracers time and energy, Craig Behm, the Maryland executive director for CRISP, explained.

“CRISP specializes in collecting sensitive health care information and then making it available for treating clinicians and similarly approved users,” Behm said in a statement. “While the universities are not a technically complicated setup, they are an exciting new way to leverage our exchange system.”

Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County began to share data with CRISP this week, while other USM institutions are expected to join later.

“Working with CRISP allows us to be more proactive in how we use critical health data and accelerate the steps we take to protect the communities in which our students live and learn. We can’t guarantee COVID-free campuses, but we can be smart about how we work with the data we have to mitigate disease spread and lower the risk of infection,” USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in a statement.

This health information exchange could also extend to the Maryland State Department of Education and K-12 schools across the state, Behm said. CRISP had a brief conversation with State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon a few months ago, but MSDE was not been ready at that time, he said. “Hopefully with the universities showing the way and demonstrating this is an appropriate and safe use of the data, I’m optimistic it could be translatable to MSDE.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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