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How HIEs can enable public health reporting when EHRs fall short

Healthcare’s Holy Grail of widespread information sharing holds considerable promise as well as daunting challenges and public health reporting is among the places it is playing out.

“Interoperability can automate routine reporting processes that can alleviate burden on providers while improving data gathering processes for public health organizations,” said Brian Dixon, a research scientist at Regenstrief Institute.

But Dixon explained that hospitals and public health face a number of obstacles today.

For starters, local health departments have yet to implement the infrastructure necessary to receive digital reports. “They rely on paper and require help from a larger health system or health information exchange network,” Dixon said.

Also, providers at times do not completely understand all of the diseases they should be reporting to public health departments. And others simply presume that someone else is responsible for reporting for them – or, in certain cases, Dixon said the people and resources to complete that reporting do not always exist.

It doesn’t help either that state laws about reporting conditions and criteria vary, which Dixon added make harmonization a necessity.

What’s more, few EHR platforms are currently capable of facilitating data transfer to public health departments.

That’s where health information exchanges can come in. Dixon pointed to three key ways HIEs can facilitate information sharing to overcome the obstacles outlined above.

First, HIE networks can harmonize reporting requirements to help providers better understand what they should alert health departments about and what they do not need to. “Regional HIE networks are well positioned to harmonize regional laws that might vary,” Dixon said.  

Second, HIE networks can harmonize messages and data.

This includes health information residing in otherwise disparate EHR systems as well as standards for submitting information to public health authorities. Dixon pointed for example to the ability translate certain lab test names to LOINC codes to enable reporting into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

And third, HIE networks can help with interfaces for connecting various EHR systems to public health infrastructure.

“The regional HIE entities know their health system landscape and can navigate the key players, engage public health organizations in dialogue with health system leadership, and can develop interfaces that connect the health system players together,” Dixon said.  

Dixon will address these obstacles and opportunities during a HIMSS19 session, “Enhanced Public Health Reporting Using an HIE Network,” is scheduled for Wednesday, February 13, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. in room W230A.

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