When Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley, MD, MBA, FAAP declared a public health emergency due to the novel H1N1 influenza pandemic, her declaration by code allowed her access to the state's database for all licensed healthcare providers. This presented a useful new communications channel.
This new channel quickly evolved into a weekly "Dear Colleague" letter, which is e-mailed to physicians, dentists, nurses, and all other licensed health professionals in Virginia. The letters are sent through the state's Health Alert Network (HAN). Broad distribution is ensured because clinicians are required by license to maintain current contact information.
The Dear Colleague letter has opened a link with providers, said Diane Helentjaris, MD, MPH, Deputy Director of Epidemiology for the Virginia Department of Health. Nearly 300 responses have been received from providers, including that the letters help provide a good understanding of the issue.
Although the letter is sent to providers, it is also seen more widely, she noted. For instance, some providers post the letters in their offices for their patients to review.