COVID-19 Pandemic Shines Spotlight On Need For Interoperability

Despite the endless efforts healthcare organizations have made to support health data interoperability, the path still remains rocky. However, the pandemic has offered a sharp reminder that problems with patient data sharing can undercut treatment, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic underway, a new study suggests.

The study surveyed 509 managers working in frontline provider organizations on their current status. According to the respondents, the lack of interoperability between providers has undermined COVID-19 care and continues to set the quality of population health data needed to address outbreak patterns.

Current interoperability efforts seem to be stalled, in part, due to CMS’s decision to delay enforcing its Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rules until next year. In fact, 90% of respondents said that delay enforcing these rules took away whatever incentive they had to make interoperability a priority. (This deserves a full discussion of its own.)

Of course, the enforcement delay has given providers some helpful breathing room but has had some nasty unanticipated consequences. The truth is that providers will have even more trouble coping with the pandemic if they can’t share patient data freely.

The survey suggests that Interoperability problems are having a significant impact on COVID care.

For one thing, 93% of managers responding to the survey said that downstream COVID-19 clinicians weren’t getting complete patient information. This is an unacceptable state of affairs and yet, so far providers have been forced to accept it.

Meanwhile, 93% of consumers surveyed in July said they were disappointed by problems with sharing COVID-19 data from one EHR to another. They seem to be unhappy with multiple healthcare players, including 55% which blamed their provider and 31% the provider’s EHR.

In addition, public health data collection has been spotty at best. Seventy-nine percent of respondents reported that manual processes aren’t equipped to allow providers to gather and submit pandemic information to public health agencies consistently.

This is a serious problem under current circumstances. Normally, public health information as more relevant to those planning health policy, but these days it can be a practical tool in managing the outbreak and detecting emerging trends in COVID-19 surges.

Black Book also notes that in a separate study of 2,517 healthcare consumers cutting across all 50 states, 324 COVID-19-diagnosed patients said they were treated in new care environments this year. Not one of these COVID-19 patients said their full patient record was accessible to their COVID treatment team electronically.  This gap in health records access is unfortunate at best and dangerous at worst.

Meanwhile, with physicians often working from home and office locations closed, 11% of consumers responding to the study reported that it was difficult to fax or retrieve records.

Of course, nobody was prepared for the pandemic to wreak havoc on the healthcare system, so it’s not surprising that they were willing to drop interoperability efforts when CMS got off of their backs. They just chose a very bad time to drop this particular ball.

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.