A Public Health Laboratory Information System in Support of Health Emergencies: The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory COVID-19 Experience

Walter S. Campbell, Matthew Donahue, Robin M. Williams, Emily McCutchen, Jana Broadhurst, Andy Schnaubelt, Nicholas J. Staffend, Steven H. Hinrichs, Peter C. Iwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Public health laboratories (PHLs) are essential components of US Public Health Service operations. The health information technology that supports PHLs is central to effective and efficient laboratory operations and overall public health response to infectious disease management. This analysis presents key information on how the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) information technology system evolved to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Materials and Methods: COVID-19 presented numerous, unforeseen information technology system challenges. The most notable challenges requiring changes to NPHL software systems and capability were improving efficiency of the laboratory operation due to high-volume testing, responding daily to demands for timely data for analysis by partner systems, interfacing with multiple testing (equipment) platforms, and supporting community-based specimen collection programs. Results: Improvements to the NPHL information technology system enabled NPHL to perform >121 000 SARS-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction tests from March 2020 through January 2022 at a sustainable rate of 2000 SARS-CoV-2 tests per day, with no increase in laboratory staffing. Electronic reporting of 62 000 rapid antigen tests eliminated paper reporting and extended testing services throughout the state. Collection of COVID-19 symptom data before specimen collection enabled NPHL to make data-driven decisions to perform pool testing and conserve testing kits when supplies were low. Practice Implications: NPHL information technology applications proved essential for managing health care provider workload, prioritizing the use of scarce testing supplies, and managing Nebraska’s overall pandemic response. The NPHL experience provides useful examples of a highly capable information technology system and suggests areas for additional attention in the PHL environment, including a focus on end users, collaboration with various partners, and investment in information technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-609
Number of pages8
JournalPublic Health Reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023


  • COVID-19
  • laboratory informatics
  • public health informatics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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