The U.S. surpassed 11,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus today, according to data from John Hopkins University, and all indications are that this global pandemic – which has already turned American life upside down – will continue to spread. Congress is debating multiple different aid packages that could benefit both American workers and companies, while federal officials scramble to loosen regulations and cut red tape.
Health care experts have said that real-time data about the coronavirus’ spread, symptoms, and severity could help inform policymakers about where to direct resources and what mitigation steps will help contain the spread. One potential barrier to analyzing as much information as possible about COVID-19 is an outdated set of federal regulations related to transferring patient data.
However, a new federal rule would improve the ability of health care providers to share electronic health information by supporting secure access to that data and better exchange and use of it.
“By outlining specific requirements about electronic health information, we will be able to help patients, their caregivers, and providers securely access and share health information,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said recently. “These steps forward for health IT are essential to building a healthcare system that pays for value rather than procedures, especially through empowering patients as consumers.”
Quickly accessing patient records from all sources is crucial, but seamless access has been hampered by the territorial nature of electronic health record (EHR) solutions. However, a health information exchange system already in place in Florida could hold the key by building bridges between EHRs.
Think about how challenging it must be when a possible COVID-19 patient shows up at an emergency room and the hospital needs access to the patient’s medical records – but those records are scattered around several different doctors who use different “patient portals”. HIE Networks, based in Tallahassee, allows patient records from any source to be uploaded and combined into a secure, patient-specific portal. This is key because many systems are proprietary and can’t be integrated with different systems. The data HIE Networks compiles can be accessed by medical teams and patients in real time – from different areas and different types of electronic record systems.
“EHR systems are highly proprietary, so by design they don’t communicate easily with each other,” said Dr. Dan Kaelin, HIE Networks’ co-founder and Chief Medical Officer. “That means there’s no way to quickly collect and view patient information across health plans, hospitals,
walk-in clinics, county public health departments, and other providers – and that’s a problem for health care treatment.”
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last week announced new electronic notification procedures requiring hospitals to send real-time electronic notifications to each of a new patient’s relevant doctors. HIE Networks’ health information exchange system is one of the few systems providing fast and affordable interoperability among different systems.
The rule was designed to drive patient access and sharing of their electronic health information, but it’s taken on new urgency from COVID-19. With testing efforts across Florida continuing to ramp up, expect more cases to be identified and more data to be available.