How Healthcare Data Sharing Failed Providers & Patients in the Pandemic

The following is a guest article by Sam Dorshorst, Account Executive at Documo.

COVID-19 exposed many dangerous flaws in our healthcare system, not least of which is the inability of providers to easily share life-saving information wherever and whenever it’s needed.

With an influx of patients in need of immediate and critical care, providers have been underserved by their technology infrastructure and are forced to continue relying on inefficient and outdated methods of communication.

The struggle for fully interoperable systems in healthcare has so far remained elusive. With more data available than ever before, it’s imperative that providers are able to access and use this information to improve the quality of patient care and prevent the spread of disease.

For example, tracking positive cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, discharges, and deaths can help epidemiologists and public health agencies identify emerging hot spots and take actions to mitigate further risks.

The CDC does have a system in place to track diseases and identify outbreaks – the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP). Daily, NSSP processes four million messages on discharges, admissions, and transfers. However, this system has yet to be used for tracking COVID-19 data.

Patients infected with COVID-19 often bypass their primary care providers and go straight to emergency rooms. This means their patient files may not make it to the hospitals where they receive treatment. A recent survey of healthcare facility managers found 93% reporting not having all the relevant patient details necessary for proper treatment.

The lack of uniform and secure electronic data sharing between providers and public health agencies has already impacted patient care and policy creation.

However, governments have introduced several policies aimed at improving information sharing during the pandemic. Through increased program funding and reductions in compliance penalties, the federal government hopes to make data exchange more seamless to better meet the needs of patients and public health agencies.

The last major change (which may have caused more harm than good) is the delay in enforcement of the Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rules by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Among healthcare facility managers, 90% said the delay in enforcement caused them to also put off establishing an interoperability plan in 2020.

Rather than waiting for government enforcement, healthcare facilities can work now to integrate solutions into their systems to improve patient care, reduce wasted time, avoid lost documents, and get prepared for the inevitable post-pandemic enforcement of interoperability rules.

Immediately Available Interoperability Solutions

1. Electronic Health Records for Patients
While most facilities have migrated to using electronic health records (EHR) for patient information, some still persist in retaining paper records. When clinics are closed or unavailable, the paper records are unavailable also. If a patient in a hospital needs their records from a closed office, they can’t receive them until someone opens the office, finds the records, and faxes them to the hospital.

Among healthcare consumers surveyed, 11% claimed closed clinics or fax problems prevented them from having their records delivered in a timely manner.

Using common EHR systems may make accessing patient information easier for clinics and transmitting patient information simpler and more seamless.

2. Health Information Exchanges (HIEs)
Public health agencies work with HIEs to collate information on outbreaks and other aspects of public health. By integrating a hospital or lab’s system with HIEs, public health agencies have the information needed to best distribute supplies, offer guidance to public officials, and inform the public.

The use of HIEs on a regional or state level is so critical that HHS awarded $2.5 million in 2020 to improve their communication with public health agencies and other facilities.

3. Secure Cloud Fax
Individual clinics, hospitals, labs, and insurance providers all use secure online fax providers for delivering sensitive information. Instead of pulling paper documents from a cabinet or printing out electronic records to send through a dial-up fax machine, cloud fax services securely encrypt digital files for simple and secure storage and delivery.

Without a single digital means of sharing patient information, faxing will continue to be common in the healthcare industry. Even with complete interoperability, insurance providers and patients may still request information that requires alternative means of secure transmission. Cloud fax services can quickly deliver documents while maintaining HIPAA compliance and keeping sensitive PHI and other files encrypted and secure.

About Sam Dorshorst

Sam Dorshorst is an Account Executive at Documo, a next-generation secure document workflow solution. mFax is Documo’s robust HIPAA compliant enterprise cloud fax service designed to meet the evolving challenges of healthcare data sharing and interoperability. The Documo suite of products also includes mDrive, a secure and compliant storage and file sharing solution as well as mSign, a soon-to-be-launched integrated eSignature product.