Our Country’s Current System for Managing COVID Testing Data is Chaotic — Here’s How We Can Fix It

An increasing number of U.S. cities are expanding their services for coronavirus testing. People can either order a COVID-19 home testing kit or undergo testing at a verified public health laboratory. But as more people receive testing for the virus, researchers are struggling to gather this information in an organized manner. To solve this problem, many health care systems are implementing EHR integration services to gather data on incoming test results. So what does this mean for the future of COVID research? The team at Iron Bridge is here to break it down.

Current Procedure for Gathering Testing Data

This is the Standard Process We Use for Testing Now, But it’s Becoming More Complicated 

scientist holding a test tube

If you are an epidemiologist who has been tasked with determining whether or not it is safe to ease up certain lockdown restrictions, you will have to first examine the current COVID-19 testing data before making a decision. But obtaining this data is harder than you would assume.

Many researchers have to visit the health department website of each jurisdiction they are covering, as well as any neighboring jurisdictions, to try to gather information about each area before attempting to collate all of it together. 

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the information you have gathered is up-to-date. If the data you are looking for is not featured on their respective websites, you may have to reach out to these departments directly. 

Getting Down to the Root of the Problem

So, how did this problem start?

In the United States, public health functions as a decentralized system. When it comes to collecting and reporting data on COVID-19, there is no set standard for states to follow together. Because it is up to individual states to decide for themselves how they want to handle COVID-19 testing, a large disparity can form among them. While every state department reports the number of positive and negative tests they have gathered, the other types of data that individual states can submit varies. States have the power over to decide whether they want to divide case numbers geographically, record the number of recovered cases and deaths, note hospitalizations, and factor in ventilator or ICU usage. Not all states report demographic information such as a patient’s sex, age, ethnicity, and any pre-existing conditions they had. 

The Negative Effects That Delayed Data Gathering Can Bring

Because of the disconnect in standards for reporting data on COVID-19 testing, there has been a delay in the country’s ability to respond appropriately to the newest testing updates. At the moment, many researchers are forced to waste time correcting disparities in any numbers they find. This prevents their ability to conduct real-time testing updates. In order to focus our efforts and cut time on creating a plan for re-opening, we need to implement a uniform process for collecting and reporting up-to-date COVID-19 testing data. 

The Role of Home Testing Kits in the Fight to Gather Critical Data in a Timely Manner

New forms of testing, such as antigen testing, can exacerbate our struggle to close the disparity of data among COVID-19 tests. Unless users actively go out of their way to send their results to their state’s health care system, many of these results will remain unknown. Not only that, but these new tests do not offer the same amount of accuracy as each other. In other words, one test might have a higher accuracy rate than another, thus causing it to carry more weight. 

The Implementation of EHR Integration in Modern Health Care

EHR Integration is Here to Stay

two hands pointing toward a laptop screen

Thankfully, researchers don’t have to invent a whole new method for gathering data from COVID-19 tests. A high number of health care systems already follow a standard for recording and managing medical data. Cloud-based Electronic Health Records (EHR), for instance, use data and insights gathered from testing to provide relevant information to epidemiologists and health care workers. 

The benefits of a  cloud-based EHR are plentiful, as they provide:

  • Access to a patient’s medical history and test results
  • Access to evidence-based tools designed to help researchers make informative decisions 
  • Automated workflows 

But in order to use EHR to support real-time decision-making, health care professionals must integrate it with other digital resources, also known as EHR integration

Achieving Interoperability in Health Systems to Employ EHR Integration

Achieving interoperability — the ability to use different information systems and applications to integrate data across spatial boundaries — is critical for allowing researchers to leverage their findings to improve the process for diagnosing and treating COVID-19. Many health care professionals are turning to open-source interoperability platforms to collate all COVID-related data from health systems across the country. 

The decentralization of public health in the United States can cause disparities in COVID-19 test results, thus delaying the country’s ability to properly respond to the pandemic. To learn more about EHR integration and its game-changing role in health care, contact the team at Iron Bridge today.

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