NYT: How this pediatrician used EHR data to unveil the Flint water crisis

As a pediatrician, Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, could tell children in Flint, Mich., were being poisoned around the end of summer 2015, she wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times.

Nearly 17 months earlier, Flint's water source had been switched from Detroit's municipal system to the Flint River, but the public had questions about the safety of its new drinking water that city officials weren't answering. Frustrated with the city's silence, Dr. Hanna-Attisha started to look for answers herself.

Inspired by an old friend who worked at the Environmental Protection Agency and understood the risks of lead in tap water, Dr. Hanna-Attisha reviewed her patients' blood lead numbers as listed in her hospital's Epic EHR. She found the levels of lead in children's blood had increased since the water supply changed.

"I kept thinking about all the worried parents I had seen over the past year. They were always asking about the water and whether it was safe. There had been so many news reports and rumors," she wrote. "My naïve trust in the government — local, state and national — had made a liar out of me. For months we told our patients the Flint tap water was fine."

Dr. Hanna-Attisha took her data to city and state health officials, even meeting with the mayor, but her findings were ignored. It wasn't until she teamed up with other physicians and scientists to host a news conference that put the city under national pressure and change began.

"It was an unusual thing for a local pediatrician to do. But that’s what you do when nobody’s listening. You get louder," Dr. Hanna-Attisha wrote.

While one pediatrician may have helped switch Flint's water supply back to Detroit's safer system, the citizens of Flint are still on filtered and bottled water and the effects of the crisis have yet to be realized. Nevertheless, Dr. Hanna-Attisha is hopeful and inspired.

"One of the lessons of Flint is that science and public health won’t save us without a functioning democracy. Being awake is not enough. We have to be loud," she wrote. "Only when we mobilize and have a say in what happens to our communities will smarter decisions be made — for the environment, for public health and for all our children."

Click here to read Dr. Hanna-Attisha's complete op-ed.

More articles on EHRs:
'Future of patient health records is not merely electronic,' Epic exec says
Verona, Wis., local says it's time to unionize Epic
South Carolina prisons to go live on NextGen Healthcare EHR

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