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How HIEs help with surveillance for COVID-19


With the spread of COVID-19, daily routines have been turned upside down and even though every day is unpredictable in healthcare, this is an especially overwhelming occurrence.

The CDC and the The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recommend healthcare providers improve their health IT as a unified response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On their official response website, they explicitly encourage healthcare providers of all sizes to participate in electronic health information exchange (HIE) to promote strategies to combat COVID-19.

While HIEs have been in existence for much of the 21st century, and became increasingly popular after Congress attempted to modernize data exchange processes in the 2009 HITECH Act, only recently have the benefits of HIE for public health surveillance been discussed in relation slowing the spread of a global pandemic.

Electronic healthcare information exchange promotes data sharing

When healthcare providers participate in a HIE, they break down barriers to information sharing and allow other providers and patients to securely access a patient’s complete medical history electronically. ONC explained that the goal of this mutual agreement to share patient data among providers is to improve the speed, quality and overall safety of patient care while reducing costs.

Traditionally, patient data has been kept in silos between healthcare professionals, like primary care physicians, specialty doctors and private practices. This means multiple disjointed records may exist for each patient. Luckily, technology improvements over the past decade have caused a massive shift in how medical records are handled and the CDC estimated that in 2016, around 87% of office-based physicians were using an electronic health record (EHR) system.

Yet even with electronic systems in place, barriers to data exchange exist among different organizations. Becker’s Healthcare summarized findings of a report by ONC which ultimately found that only 46% of hospitals had electronic access to the patient information they required from outside providers. Offices would still need to fax over patient documents to other healthcare providers or, more often than not, patients would provide information themselves by bringing a hard copy of their records to appointments.

HIEs allow participating organizations to pull up complete patient records when they’re needed the most, leading to timelier and more accurate diagnoses. With full knowledge of a patient’s health history, medications and pre-existing conditions, doctors can implement the best care plan, minimizing duplicate procedures and prescription errors.

Aiding public health surveillance with HIEs

While improving patient care is a major goal of HIEs, it’s important to highlight how vital they are for public health surveillance. According to the CDC, “Public health surveillance is the cornerstone of public health practice.” The CDC, along with other public and private organizations, constantly collects data to identify disease outbreaks and noninfectious health conditions, and to inform policy changes and program interventions.

Hence, the CDC is recommending healthcare providers begin participating in HIEs or improving their existing interoperability efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak. Hea!thcare Innovation Group highlighted how HIEs in Illinois and New York City were rapidly extending their capabilities at the end of March as cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. began to skyrocket.

A case in point

The Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE) deployed a visual dashboard to track measures on how COVID-19 impacted the state. Centers for testing, coding and data processing were connected through the electronic health information exchange so the Indiana State Department of Health received real-time updates of COVID-19 results.

“Public health surveillance is the cornerstone of public health practice.”- CDC

Similarly, in New York City a large HIE was able to use the shared data of participating providers to understand patients’ clinical conditions to identify high-risk patient populations and support prevention efforts. The seamless sharing of patient information from initial testing to diagnosis not only helps speed up the process, but it’s also used to spot trends in how the disease spreads.

With large pools of patient data, HIEs are better able to identify how a disease spreads, quickly inform those who were possibly exposed and begin carrying out a plan of action. For the CDC, this interoperability is crucial for the immediate support of COVID-19 relief and possible future planning.

In recent interviews reported on by The Washington Post, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease discussed the very real possibility of another wave of COVID-19 diagnoses in the fall and winter. With open information sharing made possible by HIEs, the CDC may be able to better spot an uptick in cases and hotspots before another drastic spread.

Enhance your data exchange with a supportive partner

Tangible Solutions is ready to support you and your business functions during these uncertain times. With years of experience working with health IT, we can seamlessly connect your care community by breaking down data silos and integrating your systems.

Contact us to learn more about how to improve your organization’s interoperability.

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