What does COVID-19 mean for Healthcare Interoperability?
The role of information sharing during a pandemic
Apr 16, 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the healthcare industry into providing solutions and guidance into unchartered territory. Now more than ever, industry leaders are asking themselves how they can contribute in innovative ways to make the world a better and safer place for providers, patients, and health systems.

Here, Naveen Chaudhary and Erin Gibson from Asymmetrik’s Healthcare team reflect on how healthcare interoperability fits into the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The 21st Centuries Cures Act

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized two new rules in the 21st Century Cures Act. As the most extensive healthcare data sharing policies the federal government has enacted to date, the rules require public and private entities to securely share health information between patients and other parties. The goal is twofold: to allow patients more control over their care, and to increase innovation by fostering an ecosystem of new software applications to provide more options to patients.

Putting patients in the driver’s seat in terms of managing their own healthcare is especially important in the context of COVID-19. It allows individuals to access their own data to help address their symptoms or access appropriate care, and it affords the opportunity for individuals to contribute their data for public health efforts to rapidly improve our understanding of COVID-19 in order to build better algorithms or identify effective treatments.

Finalizing the Cures Act creates an opportunity for collaboration and seamless information sharing across the industry. Coincidentally, these new interoperability rules could not have come at a more relevant time as patients, providers, and public health officials navigate what this pandemic means for them.

  • Patients want to know if they are at risk, whether they should see a doctor, and what preventative measures they should take.
  • Providers want a way to triage patients to appropriate care (much of that being self-managed home care) and figure out how an influx of COVID-19 patients will fit into rapidly evolving workflows.
  • Public Health Officials (researchers, epidemiologists, government officials) need all-encompassing data in a standardized format, to better understand this still-evolving disease and inform on guidelines.

Interoperability’s Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Specifically, there are three key ways the new interoperability rules can have a positive impact on how we address COVID-19.

  • Data-sharing among healthcare providers and public health officials is more important than ever. As global health experts are frantically studying COVID-19, data-sharing will make it easier to identify trends in symptoms, recovery times, mortality rates, and experimental treatment efficacy across different hospitals and geographic locations.

    Yet traditionally, public health agencies and healthcare providers do not use the same information systems, data formats, or even data standards, hampering the ability to share data in a timely, efficient manner. By standardizing the data through HL7 FHIR, we can greatly reduce the time and resources required to analyze data and ultimately standardize our understanding of this emerging virus and the most effective interventions.

    Carpe Diem! This could not be a better time to seize the day and take this opportunity to put it into place.

  • To prevent spread and optimize capacity for the sickest patients in healthcare settings, screening and triage apps need to connect to existing patient data systems. As health experts further understand correlations with pre-existing conditions, age, and other factors, these data points will direct care for patients. Knowing how many people are symptomatic at home will help with resource planning efforts.

    Our healthcare systems are challenged and stretched in ways most providers have never experienced in their lifetime, requiring we rapidly develop new workflows and healthcare delivery practices. In many systems, standard care is rapidly moving to virtual appointments or remote patient monitoring.

    To make this efficient, we need data exchange between electronic health records (EHRs), screening applications, remote monitoring platforms and telemedicine offerings. Modernizing workflows to support this would not only allow needed access during the immediate public health crisis; but also hinge on the ONC’s long term goals for standards of care.

  • Ever-evolving guidelines and emerging evidence requires the ability to quickly update standards of screening and care. Guidelines for screening potential COVID-19 are changing rapidly. Initially (and not long ago), questions about travel to China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy were included. Those questions are less relevant now as the virus is widespread in many of our U.S. communities. Here, interoperability is critical as it affords the ability to build or update once and push out across many different systems and institutions in real time as guidance and local epidemiologic data comes in.
  • As COVID-19 continues to impact U.S. health systems, interoperability will continue to play an important role. We may see a significant uptick in adoption of remote patient monitoring and telehealth tools as health systems adapt to new workflows and challenges. Tools that are connected to the existing patient record and EHR will be essential in identifying patients who are most at risk, and ensuring resources can be allocated rationally.

    Learn more about Asymmetrik’s robust FHIR Capabilities, modernized digital transformation, big data analytics, and custom web applications. Additionally, you can view Asymmetrik’s open source FHIR Server here.