Why Data Interoperability Is Critical In The Fight Against The Pandemic

By Daniel Cidon, CTO, NextGate.

Daniel Cidon

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.

Big Data: Taiwan’s big data approach to the Coronavirus is a prime example of successful interoperability between hospitals and the public sector. In a single day, Taiwan’s government was able to integrate data from the National Health Insurance Administration and Immigration Agency to identify patients’ 14-day travel history. By linking medical records on the national health insurance database with customs and immigration records, they were able to identify and test those who had recently travelled from China or sought medical care. While controversial, it serves as a working example of how a centralized patient record system can coordinate various information-sharing formats between hospitals and the public sector.

Protecting High-Risk Populations: The rapid growth of the Coronavirus compounds the challenge of effectively identifying soon-to-be high-risk populations, which require easy and direct access to disparate data sources. The ability to gather actionable data and successfully put the data to work to protect the health of their communities necessitates accurate, timely and complete data.

Research and Vaccines: While COVID-19 research advances rapidly, discovery hinges on access to interoperable health data for insight about the virus, its behavior, and possible treatments. Data from diagnostic tests, research, locations of confirmed positive cases, the denominator of total tests administered, treatment results, evolving case definitions, and many other streams of data must be mined. In fact, a new repository of coronavirus data, led by the White House, gives experts in AI and machine learning access to hordes of scientific research in an effort to combat the pandemic.

Final Thoughts

Fortunately, many state health information exchanges (HIEs) already provide the needed infrastructure to aggregate, standardize, link and transmit time-sensitive data effectively. In the months ahead, they will be vital to helping hospitals overcome the fragmentation barriers needed to track the spread of the disease in their communities.

On March 23, NextGate was joined by 21 other healthcare and health IT leaders calling on Congress to consider further steps as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in such areas as: patient matching, telehealth and remote patient monitoring, rural broadband funding and regulatory relief, in an effort to foster innovation and alleviate further hardships on providers.

As the digital health community continues to support hospitals in the fight against the pandemic to improve safety and efficiency, interoperability and information sharing across the continuum will be vitally important to help our providers navigate its most challenging days to come. Knowledge is power, and we must ensure our clinicians, scientists and researchers have immediate access to reliable, high-quality data to effectively collect, analyze, detect and monitor the virus and advance treatments.

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