HPV Surveillance Project Reminds Us Why HIEs Still Matter

When healthcare organizations use EHR data to improve care or streamline processes, it seems like an obvious way to go. There are many benefits to doing so – certainly far more than I could cover in a single story—and odds of finding better ways to leverage such data further keep increasing over time.

Given the attention commercial EHR data use gets, it’s easy to forget the role of such data in improving public health. Yes, medical practices need to meet criteria that converge with public health objectives, such as managing diabetes and its side effects. And of course, population health management efforts directly mirror and sometimes overlap with public health goals. But it’s seldom the work of which rockstars are made.

However, given that the bulk of efforts have typically been spearheaded by government agencies or independent non-profits in the past, it’s a good idea to keep track of what they’re doing, especially if you’re wondering what else you can do with patient health data. It’s even more important to remember that even a cache of regional health data can be very valuable in supporting community health.

I was thinking about this recently when the following story turned up in my inbox.  On the surface, it’s not a big deal, but it’s the kind of cooperative effort that can improve community health in ways that work for everyone in healthcare.

This story looks at the kind of data harvesting exercise that flies under the radar of most providers. It describes an HPV surveillance effort, the HPV Vaccine Impact Monitoring Project (HPV-IMPACT), which is sponsored by the CDC and implemented by the Center for Community Health and Prevention at the University of Rochester.

The HPV-IMPACT project is relying in part on data by the Rochester RHIO, which is sharing anonymized patient health information collected between 2008 to 2014. The researchers are also using data from California, Connecticut, Oregon and Tennessee.

The goal of HPV-IMPACT is to identify trends such as changes in the percentage of women screened for HPV, the implications for different age groups and overall test outcomes. Once they complete this analysis, research will use it to determine whether HPV incidence rates can be attributed to vaccine use or alternatively, decreases in detection.

While this kind of project is bread-and-butter research, something that won’t ever make headlines in medical journals, it deserves some thought.

With things being as they are, it’s easy to dismiss HIEs as parts of a broken national interoperability effort. Hey, I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. For many years, I waited for the HIE model today, in part because it just didn’t seem to be a sustainable business model, but at least some just kept on chuggin’.

As it turns out, regional HIEs aren’t abandonware — they just have their own niche. This kind of story reminds me that even limited health data collection efforts can make a difference. Keep up the good work, folks.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.