Policymakers should make better use of ONC for COVID-19 response, says Pew

In addition, broader embrace of APIs and more concerted strategy for patient matching could help public health agencies combat the pandemic and boost pop health.
By Nathan Eddy
01:44 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the urgent need for data to inform public health interventions and could serve as an important example of how medical data can be used to monitor progress, according to a new fact sheet released by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The document outlines a series of recommendations for accelerating data infrastructure for surveillance and management of pandemics, as well as the ways digital tools can strengthen access to, and sharing of, healthcare data.

The author of the report, Ben Moscovitch, project director of health information technology for Pew, suggested a more central role for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

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He noted the agency’s experience in evaluating various types of health IT systems and experience with setting health technology standards to assist public health registries or contribute to the installation of a national surveillance system to combat and manage the spread of pandemics.

A major challenge the pandemic has uncovered is the interoperability of different health databases around the country, which have difficulty communicating effectively with each other. The soon-to-be-enforced final rules from ONC on information blocking and patient access can help, as National Coordinator Dr. Don Rucker has said.

More widespread deployment of application programming interfaces, APIs, could help collect data from various sources faster and more securely, without overloading health systems with duplicate sets of information or siloed approaches to information storage.

Moscovitch also warned against information blocking during public health emergencies, noting that labs are not sharing the needed information to slow the spread of the disease because there is little financial incentive to do so.

Health systems must also be able to address patient matching problems by having extra data points available, including contact tracing enabled by the use of better standards for some data, particularly addresses.

"As federal and state policymakers improve their public health infrastructures, they should build on the systems and policies already in place," Moscovitch concluded. Digital medicine can allow providers to access and synthesize patient information and help clinicians deliver better care."

An earlier Pew study indicated standardized demographic data could aid in patient matching rates and revealed consistent use of standards for demographic data could help link patients’ records from various providers, no matter where they seek care.

A recent World Health Assembly virtual panel hosted by HIMSS also suggested the handling of health data to provide better connectivity between health systems would be one of the greatest challenges facing the global healthcare community in the post-COVID-19 era.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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