Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, was elected in 2016. Republican Rep. Earl 'Buddy' Carter, R-Pooler, was elected in 2014.

Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, was elected in 2016. Republican Rep. Earl 'Buddy' Carter, R-Pooler, was elected in 2014. / United States Congress

Despite the partisan rancor overtaking Capitol Hill, two Georgia representatives have reached across the aisle to introduce a bill aimed at bringing sweeping updates to the outdated technology used in most federal and local public health departments.

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, has introduced the Public Health Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2019 with Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, signing on as the bill's cosponsor. The bill targets the technology used in public health departments to collect, track and share health data and information.

Health centers at the federal level share data with state and local departments on issues including e-cigarette use, opioids, maternal mortality, flu and an endless number of public health crises and life-threatening epidemics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the lagging infrastructure and technology and has publicly expressed the need for investment and modernization.

Director of Science and Policy, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists Janet Hamilton highlighted some of the outdated practices in a December report.

“The nation’s public health data systems are antiquated and in dire need of security upgrades,” Hamilton said. “Paper records, phone calls, spreadsheets and faxes requiring manual data entry are still in widespread use and have significant consequences including delayed detection and response, lost time, missed opportunities, and lost lives.”

The CDC has already laid out an effort on how to modernize and revise outdated practices. McBath and Carter hope to bolster that effort and ensure that local health systems are not left out in this effort.

“We must use our technology to help keep families healthy and whole," McBath in a statement announcing the legislation. "Modernizing data systems in our public health centers will give our health care professionals faster access to more data, and it is an important step toward protecting the public health of our communities.”

The bill lays out a process for local public health departments to apply for grants to assist in assessing areas of improvement in their data collection and storage and to improve how local departments send health data back to the CDC.

Current limitations on how departments share data such as new HIV cases or vaping-related illnesses contribute to why published data can be weeks, months and sometimes years behind.

Carter, the legislation's cosponsor, is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce where the bill was referred.