For years, health IT stakeholders and industry associations have stressed the importance of high-quality patient matching and data standardization in achieving the goals of the Triple Aim. While efforts for a national strategy have stalled, in part because of the government’s ban on universal identifiers, endeavors to improve patient identification at scale are mounting.
Last November, Senator Maggie Hassan petitioned the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to develop policies for standardized address data given the importance of accurate patient demographics in this ongoing pandemic.
Since then, action has been forthcoming, not only by the ONC but also by the federal government and other private sector organizations who have come together to address the clear need for a unified standard around patient address data. In December, ONC announced their intention to develop a unified specification for a critical component in patient matching—address data.
This new initiative, known as Project US@, will formally launch later this month and help health officials and experts establish consistency around formatting patient addresses. Here are three things you should know about Project US@:
As COVID-19 closes in the on U.S., the need for longitudinal health data and interoperability have never been greater. Providers need access to the full picture of every patient they treat, and epidemiologists need to consolidate data from multiple sources to track the spread of the disease and determine where more aggressive containment strategies need to be employed.
For many organizations already overwhelmed, fragmented systems lead to an infrastructure bottleneck, resulting in degraded data quality, gaps in care coordination, medical errors and burdensome workflows. Lack of comprehensive medical data impairs a provider’s ability to know how many people have the virus, the geographical location of confirmed cases, and the effectiveness of treatment.
Even as capacity restrictions force organizations to work without barriers—via drive-thru screenings, make-shift tents or by way of telehealth—real-time access to data can help streamline care management, whether fast tracking admissions or empowering patients at home through online portals.
Here are just five ways data interoperability plays a pivotal role in addressing the epidemic:
Coordination of Care: COVID-19 provides a sobering reminder of just how dire an integrated, scalable and interoperable healthcare infrastructure is. Coordination among first responders, public health officials, labs, acute and post-acute facilities will be critical to efficiently deal with the explosion of cases. Insurers will also be a key player of the care coordination team as to not slow down or hold up prior authorizations and patient discharges. Access to information about hospitalizations and test results among healthcare participants will be vital for enhanced continuity of care across settings and transitions. Real-time data afforded by interoperability bypasses the need for phone calls and faxes, which create delays and information inaccuracies.
Patient Identification: A complete view of one’s medical history can be a matter of life or death in the face of COVID-19. Bringing disparate medical records together into a cohesive story enables those on the frontlines insight into an individual’s pre-existing medical conditions, medications, allergies, etc. to make the most informed decisions under insurmountable circumstances. Patient demographics and data standardization play a huge role. Accurate patient identification ensures data about an individual is correctly linked, updated and shared, for improved clinical decision-making and enhanced care quality and safety. As health officials look to track and predict the spread of the virus. A complete view of the patient population can only be done with a firm understanding of the patient’s identity, and the key relationships the patient has to their next of kin and to their providers of care.
By Gevik Nalbandian, vice president of software development, NextGate
If you wanted a clear snapshot of the progress we’ve made—or rather, haven’t made—in patient data sharing and exchange, look no further than a new report from the American Hospital Association (AHA) and six other national hospital associations—America’s Essential Hospitals, Association of American Medical Colleges, Catholic Health Association of the United States, Children’s Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare.
Urging all stakeholders to “unite in accelerating interoperability,” the report, released January 22, is a grass roots effort to get hospitals, EHR vendors, consumers, health information exchanges (HIEs), government and medical device companies to come to the table, play their respective roles, and make full interoperability a reality.
The benefits of interoperability are obvious: better care coordination, improved patient safety and care quality, reduced costs, increased efficiencies and the conduit to population health. Interoperability is also increasingly a legal requirement and prerequisite for reimbursement.
So why has healthcare’s goal of industry-wide interoperability remained so elusive?