Health officials say they want public, medical community ’fully informed’

Published 4:31 pm Thursday, July 13, 2006

In an effort to better inform Mississippians about pressing issues, the state Department of Health will begin this fall delivering disease information to health professionals by way of e-mail, mail or the Web.

“This way the health community and the public can be fully informed,” Danny Miller, the department’s deputy director, announced Wednesday at the Board of Health’s quarterly meeting.

The recipients will be able to chose by which method they receive the information. The changes come at a time when the Department of Health has come under scrutiny for what some consider failures to adequately warn people about disease outbreaks and other health hazards.

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The department now provides monthly Internet updates on 27 diseases in one-page summaries. Health officials say the Internet updates are an improvement over the previous use of conventional mail, but some doctors are not convinced the department has done enough to make sure the information gets to the right people.

The Department of Health had previously mailed monthly morbidity reports that included the departments analysis of diseases and trends, which was distributed to every physician in Mississippi, infection control nurses at hospitals and other interested parties.

Liz Sharlot, the department’s communications director, said officials switched to the Internet in 2004 to improve efficiency and economics.

But some physicians, like Dr. Ed Hill of Tupelo, president of the American Medical Association, said they had not seen the morbidity reports since the department starting posting them on the Web, a claim that underscores an apparent lapse in communication between the department and health care providers.

Miller said the new method will help because it lets health providers receive the reports in the way they prefer, whether it be by conventional mail, the Internet or e-mails.

If all the department did was mail out morbidity reports to all health professionals, those letters could get lost in the shuffle, Miller said. “Some of them don’t even get opened.”