How Inadequate Healthcare Interoperability Systems Can Slow Down a Country’s Response to a Pandemic

Despite advances in technology and communication programs, some hospitals continue to face hurdles when attempting to report their data to public health agencies. In fact, many of them share data over a fax or phone call rather than through an efficient data communication channel. This lack of healthcare interoperability technology can impede a medical center’s ability to send vital information, thus affecting an area’s ability to respond to a pandemic or outbreak. In our latest post, Iron Bridge breaks down the issues hospitals face regarding interoperability and the ability to share critical data. 

Healthcare Interoperability: A Breakdown on its Biggest Hurdles

A Review of the Current State of Healthcare Interoperability in the U.S.

hospital waiting room

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, researchers from Harvard Business School examined the various barriers hospitals face when attempting to meet meaningful use requirements for electronic health records (EHR). Meaningful use requirements stipulate rules on exchanging clinical patient data among providers, patients, and insurers. 

Using data from the 2018 American Hospital Association’s annual survey, the researchers found that one of the most significant challenges physicians faced was the ability for healthcare agencies to receive the data it had required hospitals to send. In fact, more than four in 10 hospitals surveyed reported that public health agencies were unable to receive their electronic data. 

How did this happen? Researchers argued that, while a significant amount of federal funding has been devoted to building information technology that allows hospitals to electronically send data, there has not been enough investment in assisting public health agencies in their ability to receive and act upon this data. 

Why Healthcare Interoperability is Important

Hospital Data is Critical for Helping State Health Departments Respond Efficiently to Pandemics

hospital building

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require hospitals to send data to their city or state health departments, reporting gaps continue to exist. These healthcare inefficiencies were made all the more glaring during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when testing results and syndromic surveillance data were badly needed to provide greater clarity on the disease. Despite the billions of dollars in federal investment toward the digitization of the U.S. healthcare system, much of the data sharing on COVID-19 occurred over-the-phone or through fax. 

Had data sharing occurred electronically instead, hospitals could have submitted COVID-19 testing results to public health agencies at a much faster rate. As a result, these agencies would have had greater clarity on the prevalence of the disease. From the Harvard Business survey, hospitals cited a number of barriers, including:

  • The capability of the public health agency in receiving information
  • Costs
  • Interface issues
  • Different vocabulary standards between hospitals and agencies
  • Difficulty extracting data from electronic health records

However, it is important to note that not all hospitals shared the same struggle of dealing with a public health agency that could not receive their data electronically. While one state did not report struggling with this problem, several others cited it as a major barrier. This may stem from differential funding levels for public health agencies among various states.  

Benefits of Streamlined Interoperability

Data Interoperability Plays an Important Part in Managing the Spread of COVID-19

female physician examining her patient

According to researchers from the JAMIA study, hospitals and public health agencies with inefficient data sharing systems are starting to become overwhelmed from the influx of COVID-19 patients. To address this, healthcare companies must re-focus themselves on switching to electronic health systems. Not only will public health agencies benefit from gathering information about their region’s respective COVID-19 cases, but they will also be able to analyze information from neighboring areas. 

Other advantages of these systems include:

  • Access to accurate, up-to-date information 
  • Enhanced privacy and security of data
  • Improved efficiency 

Solutions for Healthcare Interoperability Issues

IT Systems Built to Help Hospitals and Public Agencies Stay in Communication with Each Other

female physician examining an object

Advances in data integration and public health registries have allowed an increasing number of organizations to implement faster and efficient processes for communicating with patients, hospitals, and public health agencies. For instance, the Iron Bridge Pub Hub 2.0 platform was designed to facilitate the flow of immunization data from healthcare information systems such as EHR’s and Pharmacy Systems to create a comprehensive immunization registry that contains medical data from all 50 states. As more hospitals and healthcare agencies implement these systems into their IT management systems, the country moves closer to effectively containing the pandemic.

Iron Bridge was built upon a mission to simplify healthcare interoperability around the country. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect thousands of citizens, it is critical for hospitals and public health agencies to maintain a quick and efficient line of communication between each other. To learn more about how public health agencies can improve their current workflows, contact the team at Iron Bridge today.

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