LAS VEGAS – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of the National Medical Information Technology Coordinator are seeking to more closely link public health data systems with IT systems in hospitals.
Officials from the two HHS agencies are jointly leading a working group to assess the “performance, interoperability and connectivity of public health data systems” used to detect public health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as mandated by Biden’s decree in January… They are required to prepare a report that summarizes their findings and offers recommendations.
Public health in the US faces challenges because it is “really … not a system,” ONC chief Mickey Tripathi said Tuesday during an interoperability meeting at the Health Information and Management Systems trade show.
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that public health is a fragmented “constellation of systems,” Tripathi said, with federal, state, county, city and tribal systems generally operating separately from one another.
While the various publicly available systems are partners, there is no central group that brings together and coordinates their information flow. This is in part due to the fact that public health IT infrastructure is funded separately at different levels, which requires separate programs, including IT, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, acting assistant director of public health and surveillance at the CDC, at the HIMSS21 session.
“We need to… move on to supporting common platforms,” Jernigan said.
Public health information systems also do not easily integrate with electronic health record systems used in hospitals and other health care providers. If all of these different IT systems were more seamlessly linked together, officials said, it could reduce the reporting burden for vendors who would not have to report the same data multiple times to different agencies.
Service providers received financial incentives to implement and use EHR systems through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Rewards Programs, now known as Interaction Facilitation Programs, which were launched in 2011. There is no such incentive program for public health departments.
“Although we have spent millions of dollars to lay the foundation for EHR systems across the country, we have not made adequate investments in our public health systems,” Tripati said.
Jernigan and Tripathi spoke at HIMSS21 via videoconference and were moderated by Hal Wolf, President and CEO of HIMSS, and Tom Leary, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at HIMSS, who were on site in Las Vegas.
Several provider and company sponsors have pulled out of in-person attendance at HIMSS21 due to concerns about the delta variant of COVID, resulting in less crowds at sessions and in the showroom.
Also on Tuesday, the four-person health equity panel featured Dr. Ivor Horn, Google’s director of health equity and product inclusion. In the morning’s cybersecurity keynote address, which was attended by five panellists, Admiral Michael Rogers, former director of the National Security Agency and former commander of the US Cyber Command, also took part in the videoconference.
This year, HIMSS required all attendees to show proof of vaccination to attend a conference in Las Vegas, and required attendees to wear masks during the show. HIMSS is also hosting the HIMSS21 Digital Virtual Conference for attendees and sponsors, which runs concurrently with the Las Vegas show. While some of the keynote addresses are broadcast live or uploaded to HIMSS21 Digital, most of the programming offered through HIMSS21 Digital is different from the programming on HIMSS21 in Las Vegas.
Tripathi said ONC and CDC plan to submit an inter-agency working group report to the HHS secretary by the end of the year or early 2022. The working group is analyzing the landscape and is starting work on a part of the report with recommendations, which they will be drafting at least in the fall.
Recommendations could include creating a common set of public health data standards based on existing efforts, such as the US Core Data for Interoperability ONC, a standardized set of data elements used by many EHR companies. They can also bring ONC to work with CDC as ONC is developing a roadmap related to the adoption of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources data standard.
Lack of data integration is not just a problem in the US.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of being able to share data not only within one country but also beyond, said Dr. Hans Kluge, World Health Organization Europe Regional Director, during an interview with Modern Healthcare magazine at HIMSS21 in Las Vegas.
He said WHO is working to create a “transatlantic partnership” for digital health that will set norms and standards for data sharing. Sharing data on global issues such as COVID-19 and climate change can help accelerate research. Digital standards can also encourage different organizations to agree on how COVID-19 vaccine credentials are handled.
“We saw that the world is a small village,” Kluge said. “A virus from one part of the world was everywhere in a couple of weeks.”